So-called "statement" games are rare in a 162-game regular season when even the best clubs endure slumps and the worst ones still win approximately 40 percent of the time. Yet it was meaningful for the Giants to maintain the character and quality of their recent performances against the Cardinals, whom many pundits favored to repeat as league champions.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy acknowledged that this decision was worth savoring because "you're playing such a good team, and we play each other so well." That holds true historically, given the 3-1 NL Championship Series deficit the Giants overcame against St. Louis in 2012, and in this contest, which resembled a basketball game. It included three lead changes and a tie and ended with the Cardinals scoring a ninth-inning run before leaving the potential tying and winning runs on base.
"It's a big win," said Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong, who allowed four runs and seven hits in 6 1/3 innings. "Not only that, you want to win the first game of a series. Hopefully this gives us a little emotional lift for tomorrow and the rest of the series. Big team win tonight. A lot of guys did a lot of good things."
Several of those guys accomplished many of those things in the eighth inning, which began with St. Louis leading, 4-3.
Gregor Blanco singled for his third of three hits to lead off the eighth gainst Cardinals reliever Carlos Martinez (0-3). Blanco then stole second base -- a daring move, given perennial All-Star catcher Yadier Molina's formidable presence behind the plate. But, as Blanco said, "You don't steal the base on the catcher. You steal it on the pitcher."
Angel Pagan singled one out later. Center fielder Peter Bourjos fielded Pagan's hit and made a strong throw home, but Martinez inexplicably tried to cut off the throw instead of backing up home plate. The ball flew to the backstop, enabling Blanco, who had held at third, to score.
"I think what [Martinez] saw was the runner wasn't going to go, and so he stopped at that point and thought maybe he could get a shorter hop for Yadi," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "He's an athlete that wants to be on top of every play. That's not the right play."
Pagan moved to third on Hunter Pence's comebacker. Martinez intentionally walked Pablo Sandoval and was relieved by hard-throwing right-hander Trevor Rosenthal. Undaunted, Morse shortened his swing and sliced a 98 mph fastball to right-center field, scoring Pagan and Sandoval. That hiked the Giants' total of two-out runs to four for the evening and a Major League-high 110 on the season.
Morse, who homered in the second inning, went 2-for-4 with three RBIs and has driven in eight runs in his last four games. As his hitting reflects, he's thoroughly enjoying himself.
"I think we're just playing," he said, citing "the mentality we have and the fun we're having. Winning is contagious."
Like Morse, Sandoval continued thriving. He tied the score, 3-3, with a sixth-inning homer that extended his streak of consecutive games with at least one RBI to nine. The last Giant to accomplish this feat was Barry Bonds from Sept. 4-13, 2000.
As usual, the Giants' relievers contributed. Javier Lopez (1-0) retired two batters in the seventh inning to strand a runner at third -- "Without Javy, we might not be talking about a comeback," Vogelsong said -- before the marvelous Jean Machi threw a perfect eighth to trim his ERA to 0.33.
But the ninth inning nearly scuttled the Giants' efforts. Sergio Romo recorded his 17th save in 19 chances, but courted trouble by yielding Jon Jay's one-out single and walking Daniel Descalso with two outs. Matt Carpenter singled to right field on a 3-2 pitch, scoring Jay. Romo retired pinch-hitter Shane Robinson to end matters. It didn't end the Giants' mild concern over Romo's recent rustiness. Bochy said that he and pitching coach Dave Righetti planned to discuss some proposed mechanical adjustments with the closer.