ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals have grown used to producing seventh-inning magic, but that frame brought only frustration on Saturday, when the Giants escaped -- thanks in part to a pivotal non-call of a possible balk -- and eventually sealed Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.
Twice, St. Louis manager Mike Matheny stepped out of the dugout to protest, and twice, he was denied. An unsuccessful challenge of a call at first base and the no-balk ruling kept the Cardinals off the scoreboard in the Giants' 3-0 win at Busch Stadium.
"I've watched all the games, and I knew that was a big inning for us," said Giants ace Madison Bumgarner, a nod to the Cardinals' critical seventh-inning rallies in their NL Division Series win over the Dodgers.
The Cards scored 13 of their 18 NLDS runs in the seventh inning, and needed more as they entered Saturday's seventh in a three-run deficit, with Bumgarner cruising toward a record for consecutive scoreless innings on the road in the postseason.
With two outs and Cardinals pinch-hitter Tony Cruz batting, the Giants left-hander stepped awkwardly off the mound in a 2-2 count. Cruz and both Cardinals baserunners immediately pointed toward the mound, indicating their belief that Bumgarner had balked. Matheny stepped onto the field with both arms extended, expressing the same opinion.
Plate umpire Phil Cuzzi and the rest of the crew saw it differently.
"[Cuzzi] said he thought [Bumgarner] stepped back first," Cruz said.
Said Giants manager Bruce Bochy: "I know it looked funny there, but it's a quick step back, and you're allowed to do that."
Bumgarner himself conceded it was close, but insisted he did not, in fact, balk.
"I was about to deliver the pitch, and I thought I may be getting ready to cross Buster [Posey] up, and obviously you don't want to do that," Bumgarner said. "So I stepped off. But it was right before I was getting ready to deliver. It was close, no doubt about it. I can see why [the Cardinals] may have a problem with it, but in my mind, I don't think that I balked."
Matheny referred to the non-call as a "momentum shifter," because a balk would have given the Cardinals their first run of the game and advanced a new runner to third base. Instead, Yadier Molina and Jon Jay stayed put on the bases, then Cruz swung through Bumgarner's next pitch for an inning-ending strikeout.
In selecting Cruz for that critical pinch-hitting assignment, Matheny pointed to his left-handed-heavy bench. Cruz, a right-handed batter, was deemed the best option.
This time, there was no seventh-inning magic for St. Louis.
"We don't necessarily put a star by the seventh inning or anything else," Matheny said. "We just know that we stay the course, and we needed somebody to come up big there and get a big hit for us, and Bumgarner was good today. He kept us from having that big inning."
The Cardinals threatened to break out for that big inning. Molina and Jay delivered successive one-out singles to set up the first instance of replay review in an NLCS. It was ordered after Kolten Wong's bouncer pulled Giants first baseman Brandon Belt off the bag and forced an underhand feed to a covering Bumgarner, who tagged Wong before hip-checking him out of the baseline.
Matheny asked crew chief Gerry Davis to take a second look.
"Just didn't look right," Matheny said. "It looked as if there may have been some contact made before he had the ball. And if that was the case, needed to have that checked out. You could tell the tag was made, but the base was definitely blocked. It was just whether or not he had the ball before he did block it."
Officials at Major League Baseball's Replay Command Center in Manhattan confirmed the original call.
"The video shows I couldn't get to first base because he cut me off," Wong said. "I saw him coming and then I felt his shoulder go into my shoulder. I was standing there wondering if it was legal or not. But [the umpires] probably made the right call."
"I wasn't sure what they were talking about, reviewing the play," Bumgarner said. "I just knew I had a better shot at tagging [Wong] than beating him to the base. I don't know what they were reviewing, but glad it worked out in our favor."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.