On Sunday night, for the first time during the postseason, the Giants' bullpen didn't provide any relief. Neither did the Cardinals' bullpen, but St. Louis hit last. Kolten Wong homered against Sergio Romo, who in June lost the closer's role for the Giants, to give the Cardinals an emotional walk-off victory.
Any time a team loses a game in the ninth inning it's difficult for the players to rebound for the next game, but it's doubly hard in the playoffs when everything is magnified. The Giants have had intensive playoff experience, and they will have a better chance to shake off this disappointing loss than most teams.
The Cardinals also suffered a disappointment when their team leader and All-Star catcher Yadier Molina injured his left oblique. Usually oblique injuries take weeks to heal, and the Cardinals don't have weeks. Many consider Molina the best catcher in the Majors, and he's the heart and soul of the Cardinals. Since he missed a significant amount of time during the middle of the season, his team barely won the NL Central. It would be hard for the Cardinals to go to the World Series without him.
For the first time during the postseason, the Giants also did not have a good starting-pitching performance, and it contributed to the loss. Jake Peavy has been fantastic since coming to the Giants in July from the Boston Red Sox, but his ordinary performance wasn't good enough in Game 2 of the NLCS. In his four innings, he allowed two runs. He didn't pitch that badly, but the Cardinals continued to have surprising power. His short outing put more stress on the Giants' bullpen.
Except for the Wild Card Game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Giants haven't generated much offensive production. On Sunday, while the Cardinals used home runs, the Giants linked hits together and took advantage of wildness by Cardinals relievers. Scoring four runs should have been enough, but the Cardinals kept coming back.
For the first time in the postseason, the Giants have to play another team with as much playoff experience or more than they have. The Cardinals have been to the playoffs four consecutive seasons, and twice they have gone to the World Series, earning one championship.
During the regular season, the Giants scored the fifth-most runs in the NL, and the Cardinals were tied for ninth. Despite playing over 100 games in stadiums that favor pitchers, the Giants hit the seventh-most home runs in the league, and the Cardinals had a season-long power outage.
Both the Cardinals and the Giants had ordinary pitching, so they are well matched in this category. St. Louis had the fourth-best fielding percentage in the league, and they had a great bullpen. The Giants had instability at second base caused by a back injury to Marco Scutaro, and they had the sixth-best fielding percentage in the NL. Since they had to replace their closer during the middle of the season, their bullpen wasn't as strong as the Cardinals, even though it had performed well through the playoffs until Sunday.
Everyone is surprised by the power that the Cardinals have demonstrated through both the NLDS and the NLCS. No one has an explanation for the Cardinals' explosion. The weather is cool but beautiful in St. Louis, and the ball doesn't travel as far in cool-and-humid weather conditions as it does with hot-and-dry weather. St. Louis was 61 degrees at the beginning of the game.
The Cardinals flew after the game, while the Giants chose to spend another night in St. Louis to get a good night sleep before flying. It will be interesting to see whether the Giants can rebound from this disappointing loss and keep the Cardinals from hitting home runs at AT&T Park.