Tagged: St. Louis Cardinals

Cardinals 14, Giants 3: Ten positive things we can say about Sunday’s debacle

When you try to put a blog post after every San Francisco Giants (except when a spring break trip takes you away from internet access), it’s sometimes a challenge to try to post something positive.

Sunday was just one of those days for Matt Cain. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Sunday was just one of those days for Matt Cain. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Sunday’s game against the Cardinals was one of those games.

While we can’t guarantee any of these will perk you up after Sunday’s loss, these come from our best efforts

  1. The pre-game ring ceremony was cool. You can watch the video of the ceremony above.
  2. Angel Pagan, normally a cold starter to the season, continues to hit the ball well with a double and his first triple of the season.
  3. After getting just two hits in their first 24 at-bats with runners in scoring position, the Giants got two hits in three at-bats with RISP in the third inning. The Giants are now 5 for 30 with RISP on the season (.167).
  4. Brandon Belt got his first hit of the season.
  5. Nick Noonan got his first career hit in the ninth inning, a neat highlight if you were determined enough to wait around to watch it.
  6. Even though he still hasn’t found his swing, Pablo Sandoval got two more hits.
  7. Guillermo Quiroz is hitting 1.000 for the season.
  8. Chad Gaudin pitched three shutout innings, giving up just one hit and striking out four.
  9. Sunday’s loss only counts as one in the standings.
  10. To quote Marty Feldman from “Young Frankenstein”: It could have been worse; it could have been raining.

Did any of that make you feel any better? No? Well, if it’s any consolation, Matt Cain feels worse.

For three innings, Cain had Giants fans thinking two things: “Could Matt Cain possibly through ANOTHER perfect game?” and “Watch out Orel Hershiser; Matt Cain is coming after your consecutive scoreless innings streak.”

Cain sailed through the Cardinals’ lineup the first time through — nine up, nine down on 28 pitches. Extending back into last season, it stretched Cain’s scoreless innings streak to 11 innings.

But before the fourth inning was over, all that was a distant memory. Cain’s fourth went: single and error, single, sac fly (1 run), walk, single, ground-rule double (2 runs), single (1 run), single (1 run), foul pop-out by pitcher, walk, single (2 runs).

He left with two on and two out. Beltran’s single against Jose Mijares plated two more runs charged to Cain. All totaled: nine earned runs on seven hits and two walks.

Oh well. Luckily, there’s another game tomorrow.

Cardinals 6, Giants 3: It was ALMOST a good day for Vogelsong, Giants

San Francisco Giants' Ryan Vogelsong, center, walks off the mound as he is pulled from the game by manager Bruce Bochy (15) during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday, April 6, 2013, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

San Francisco Giants’ Ryan Vogelsong, center, walks off the mound as he is pulled from the game by manager Bruce Bochy (15) during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday, April 6, 2013, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Sabermetricians will say Ryan Vogelsong had a bad outing Saturday against the St. Louis Cardinals.

And when you look at the final statistics, it would be hard to argue.

5.1 innings, 9 hits, 5 earned runs, two walks and six strikeouts.

But if you actually sat and watched the game, you’d say Vogelsong pitched well and had a good game … well, almost.

For the first four innings, the Cardinals were not making much solid contact against Vogelsong. Yet, St. Louis had a run on the board.

Vogelsong gave up the first earned run by a Giants starter this season in the first inning. The rally was fueled by two hits — Matt Carpenter’s swining bunt and Carlos Beltran’s two-out looper to right.

After Beltran’s single, Vogelsong would set down 10 of the next 11 hitters he faced.

Then came the most unfortunate fifth inning.

It started with Pete Kozma’s grounder into the hole at short that Brandon Crawford was able to glove. But Brandon Belt was unable to handle Crawford’s short-hopped throw to first, and Kozma was safe on an infield single.

After Kozma advanced to second, then third on a pair of outs — and then Carpenter walked — Vogelsong was in position to get out of the jam when he threw an 0-1 curverball to Matt Holliday. Holliday got out in front of the pitch, but was able to put the bat on the ball and hit a perfect seeing-eye grounder into left field to tie the game at 2-2.

Vogelsong may have escaped the damage right there when Allen Craig hit a sharp grounder between third and short. Pablo Sandoval made a diving smother of the ball, but could not come up with the ball cleanly to record an out.

What made the play even more unfortunate for Vogey and the Giants is that if Sandoval had let the ball go past him, Crawford was in position to field the ball cleanly and throw out Craig.

Instead, the bases were loaded. Then Beltran followed with a clean, two-run single to right to make it 4-2.

The bad luck didn’t end there for the Giants. Trailing 5-2 in the bottom of the sixth, it looked like they were ready to mount a rally when Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt drew one-out walks. Joaquin Arias was called on to hit for Gregor Blanco. Arias then hit a liner to the right side of the infield that first baseman Craig was able to snare and turn into a inning-ending double play.

“A step here or there and we’re talking about a totally different ballgame,” Vogelsong said. “I felt I was forcing the ball early, trying to make it do stuff instead of jut letting it come out. The middle innings got better. I didn’t feel I threw the ball all that terribly.”

And he didn’t. But that’s baseball sometimes.

The end result was a loss that snapped the Giants’ three-game winning streak. It also snapped a seven-game winning streak of meaningful games for the Giants at AT&T Park that dated back to Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.


POWER FROM PENCE AND PANDA: Last season, the Giants hit the fewest home runs in the majors. This season, so far, they have hit four home runs, tying them for 16th in the majors. All four have come off the bats of Pence and Sandoval. The duo hit homers in Wednesday’s win over the Dodgers, and both connected again on Saturday. Pence is hitting .294 so far, and Sandoval is hitting .274. Plus, the Panda said he still feels a little lost at the plate after missing time late in spring training with a sore elbow.

WHO IS THIS GUY IMPERSONATING MARCO SCUTARO? Marco Scutaro went 1 for 4 Saturday, raising his average to .105. At least we think it’s Marco Scutaro. It looks like Scutaro. But the Scutaro we know struck out swinging only five times in 2012 after joining the Giants. He’s already struck out swinging twice in five games this season, including with the bases loaded and one out on Friday. On Saturday, he did something else strange. Last year, Scutaro swung at the first pitch on 13 percent of the time while playing for the Giants. In the bottom of the ninth with two outs, a runner on first and trailing by three runs, Scutaro swung at the first pitch and flied to right to end the game. Who IS this guy?

GOOD THINGS FOR BRANDON BELT? It’s been a rough week for Brandon Belt. First he looks bad against Clayton Kershaw in the season opener in LA. Then he gets food poisoning, which sidelined him for two games and caused him to loose 11 pounds. After an 0-for-4 day on Friday, Belt went 0-for-3 with walk on Saturday, leaving him 0 for 10 on the season. But two of hits outs on Saturday were loud outs, a liner to center in the second and a rope to first in the fourth. After fanning twice against Kershaw on Monday, Belt hasn’t fanned in his two games this weekend. Good things could be on the way for Belt.

Giants 1, Cardinals 0: All the Giants need is Zito and an RWI

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Barry Zito throws to the St. Louis Cardinals during the first inning of a baseball game on Friday, April 5, 2013 in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Barry Zito throws to the St. Louis Cardinals during the first inning of a baseball game on Friday, April 5, 2013 in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Six months later, and the St. Louis Cardinals are still looking to score a run at AT&T Park … or against Barry Zito.

After being shut out in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series, the Cardinals have now played 21 consecutive scoreless innings at AT&T Park, thanks to Barry Zito.

Now be honest: How many of you expected Zito to extend the Giants’ run of starting pitchers giving up no earned runs? Probably a similar number of those who thought the streak would last past Tim Lincecum.

But Zito was on again, pitching seven shutout innings, giving up four hits and three walks as the Giants won their home opener over the Cardinals, 1-0.

Here is the extent of the Giants’ offense on Friday.

The Fourth Inning

  • Gregor Blanco walks
  • Brandon Crawford singles to center
  • Zito bunts, but Yadier Molina (of all people) mishandled the ball, and Zito is safe on the error.
  • Angel Pagan walks, Blanco scores.

And then, if things weren’t strange enough, the Giants’ best contact hitter — Marco Scutaro — comes up in a contact situation … and strikes out swinging.

As it turned out, that one run is all that Zito and the Giants would need.

Zito continue his mastery of the Redbirds. If you added his seven shutout innings Friday to the 7.2 shutout innings he threw in Game 5 of last season’s NLCS and the two shutout innings on the back end of a quality start in St. Louis on Aug. 7, it makes 16.2 consecutive shutout innings by Zito against the Cardinals.

It also marked the 15th consecutive start — including last postsesaon — that the Giants won a game in which Zito started.

Zito’s start Friday marked the first time since the 1976 Milwaukee Brewers that a team had starting pitchers not allow an earned run in the first four games of the season. The Brewers, by the way, went 66-95 in 1976 in Hank Aaron’s final season.

Here’s another interesting stat: The last time the Giants won a game started by Zito by a 1-0 score came on July 16, 2010, when Zito pitched eight shutout innings on two hits, two walks and 10 strikeouts against the Mets.

And now the Cardinals get Ryan Vogelsong on Saturday.

San Francisco Giants Week 1 preview vs. Dodgers, Cardinals

San Francisco Giants' Matt Cain throws before an exhibition spring training baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013, in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

San Francisco Giants’ Matt Cain throws before an exhibition spring training baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013, in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Opening day is finally here. And the Giants begin Week 1 of the 2013 against two familiar rivals — the hated Dodgers and the Cardinals, who the Giants beat for the NL pennant in 2012. It marks the fourth consecutive opening day the Giants have played on the road: 2010 at Houston (win), 2011 at LA (loss) and 2012 at Arizona (loss). Week 1 will feature five games on national TV.


  • Monday: Giants (Matt Cain) at Los Angeles Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw), 1:10 p.m., ESPN
  • Tuesday: Giants (Madison Bumgarner) at Dodgers (Hyun-Jin Ryu), 7:10 p.m., MLB
  • Wednesday: Giants (Tim Lincecum) at Dodgers (Josh Beckett, 7:10 p.m., ESPN2

The Giants won the season series 10-8 from the Dodgers in 2012, winning 5 of 9 at home and 5 of 9 at the Ravine. … The Dodgers won the last series of 2012, the final three games of the regular season when the Giants’ lone win eliminated the Dodgers from postseason logoLADcontention. … Prior to the series, the Giants won 5 of 6 vs. LA. … This is the 10th time the Giants and Dodgers have opened the season against each other since both teams moved West in 1958. The Giants have gone 6-4; the Dodgers have won the last two (2011, 2008, both in LA). … The Dodgers’ South Korean signing Hyun-Jin Ryu will make his big-league debut on Tuesday. … Giants 2B Marco Scutaro will open the 2013 with a 20-game hitting streak to end 2012 still intact. … Scutaro will be the sixth different opening day second baseman for the Giants in the past six seasons: Ray Durham, Emmanuel Burriss, Juan Uribe, Freddy Sanchez and Ryan Theriot. … Pablo Sandoval will make his fifth consecutive opening day start at third base, the longest such streak at one position for the Giants since Ray Durham started six straight at 2B from 2003-2008.

  • Friday: St. Louis Cardinals (Jake Westbrook) at Giants (Barry Zito), 1:35 p.m., MLB
  • Saturday: Cardinals (Shelby Miller) at Giants (Ryan Vogelsong), 1:05 p.m., FOX
  • Sunday: Cardinals (Adam Wainwright) at Giants (Cain), 1:05 p.m.

logoSTLThe Giants and Cardinals went 3-3 vs. each other last season, splitting two games in SF and four in StL. … The Giants beat the Cardinals in seven games in the National League Championship Series last fall. … The three pitchers the Giants will send out in this series and the same three pitchers San Francisco started in Games 5, 6 and 7 (all wins) of the NLCS — Zito, Vogelsong and Cain. … The Cardinals were the opponent when the Giants made their home opener in 2011 after their 2010 World Series win. … The Giants won the last 11 regular season starts made by Zito, last 14 starts overall (including postseason). When did the streak begin? Aug. 7 at St. Louis, a 4-2 Giants win.

NLCS Game 7: San Francisco Giants rout St. Louis Cardinals by 1,000 pin pricks

San Francisco Giants relief pitcher Sergio Romo reacts after the final out in Game 7 of baseball’s National League championship series against the St. Louis Cardinals Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in San Francisco. The Giants won 9-0 to win the series. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)


Brandon Belt stepped up to the plate in the eighth against Cardinals closer Jason Motte. It wasn’t the game situation that Motte was hoping for. And the result wasn’t what he was hoping.

Belt sent a towering home run to right center. It was the biggest blast of the night for the Giants. And yet, they won 9-0.

The Giants learned a lesson that they needed to learn all season. Good things can happen when you put the bat on the ball.

No one taught the lesson better than Marco Scutaro.

But the Giants didn’t exactly tattoo Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse. They killed him with 1,000 pin pricks, and the Cardinals defense didn’t help him out either.


First inning, Angel Pagan leads off the game by singling to right (So huge to get that first hit out of the way). Then the Giants do the hit-and-run with Scutaro, who laced a pitch to right and Pagan took third. The next three hitters didn’t get the ball out of the infield, yet Pablo Sandoval’s bouncer back to Lohse was enough to get Pagan home. Giants 1-0.

Second inning, Gregor Blanco lines a one-out single to right and advances to second on a Brandon Crawford groundout to first. Then Matt Cain shoots a single to center, scoring Blanco. It was the third consecutive game a Giants pitcher recorded an RBI. And it was another example of sloppy defense. Running on contact with two outs, the speedy Blanco should have scored easily on a single to center. But because it was the pitcher batting, center field Jon Jay was playing shallow. He got to the ball just as Blanco was rounding third. A strong throw would have made for a close play at home. It was not a strong throw, and it was cut off before reaching the plate. Giants 2-0.

San Francisco Giants’ Hunter Pence hits a three-run double during the third inning of Game 7 of baseball’s National League championship series against the St. Louis Cardinals Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Third inning, Scutaro lines another single to right (what else is new) on the first pitch of the innng. On the second pitch, Sandoval lined a double to left. Buster Posey walked to load the bases and Kyle Lohse was done. In comes Joe Kelly. Then came maybe the weirdest double in NLCS play. Off the bat, Hunter Pence hit what looked like it might be a double-play ball when he got his bat broken by a Kelly fastball. Slow-mo replay actually showed the broken bat making contact with the ball THREE TIMES. The spin on the ball made shortstop Pete Kozma break to his right, then the ball looped to his left and into center, scoring Scutaro and Sandoval. Jay came up to field the ball, but mishandled it, and Posey scored all the way from first. It didn’t end there. The Giants would add two more runs on three balls that didn’t leave the infield. Belt hits a chopper back to the bound that a jumping Kelly deflected with his pitching hand. By the time second baseman Daniel Descalso field the ball, Belt was safe a first. Then Blanco walked to load the bases … again. Brandon Crawford hit a slow chopper that Kozma charged and fielded. His only play was to first, yet he tried to force Pence out at home. No chance. Pence scored, and the bases were still loaded. After Cain struck out, Pagan hit what again looked like a double-play ball. But Kozma’s underhanded toss to Descalso was high, forcing Descalso’s throw to first to be low and Pagan beat it out, scoring Blanco. Scutaro walked to load the balls … again … before Sandoval ended the inning with a line out to first. Giants 7-0.

The Giants added an eighth run in the seventh inning on a run-scoring double play by Aubrey Huff. Sorry, Aubrey, no RBI. And then a ninth run on Belt’s homer in the eighth.

The rest of the work was done by the pitching. Cain’s outing looked more like his 2010 postseason, allowing no runs on five hits and one walk in 5 2/3 innings. The reaction shot of the night was when from Cain when manager Bruce Bochy came to relieve him after Cains struck out David Freese for the second out in the sixth.

“NOW?!?!?” Cain said. Tim McCarver read his lips as saying “No!!!” But McCarver was wrong, as he often is.

San Francisco Giants’ Marco Scutaro, center, celebrates with Hunter Pence, right, and Brandon Crawford after Scutaro made the final out of Game 7 of baseball’s National League championship series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in San Francisco. The Giants won 9-0. (AP Photo/The Sacramento Bee, Randy Pench) MAGS OUT; LOCAL TV OUT (KCRA3, KXTV10, KOVR13, KUVS19, KMAZ31, KTXL40); MANDATORY CREDIT

But after 102 pitches, Cain had done enough. Jeremy Affledt pitched the next 1 1/3 innings, giving up no hits and one walk. Santiago Castilla got the first two outs in the eighth while allowing two hits. Javier Lopez came in to end the eighth. He got two more outs in the ninth, but also walked two as he struggled with his footing on the mound in a raging downpour.

Bochy went and got Sergio Romo to get the final out, which he did by getting Matt Holliday (fitting) to pop out to Scutaro (even more fitting).

And the Giants were singing … and dancing … in the rain.

Searching for some Game 7 karma? How about ‘Giants Monday’?

AT&T Park will be the site of Game 7 of the National League Championship Series on Monday. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

After Sunday’s Game 6 win over the Cardinals, I went searching for some kind of karma, some signal that would tell us the Giants would prevail in Game 7.

I tried looking for Game 7 history. But the Giants haven’t played a Game 7 at home since 1962, and only played two other Game 7s since then … and lost both.

I tried looking for clinching games at home. But the Giants’ last four playoff series clinching wins have come on the road. They’ve only played three potential series clinching games at home since 1962, all Game 5s: 1989 vs. Cubs (won), 2002 vs. Cardinals (won), 2010 vs. Phillies (lost).

But then, it hit me … Monday.

Mondays have been very good to the San Francisco Giants in the postseason.

The San Francisco Giants have NEVER lost a postseason game played on a Monday — a streak of seven consecutive wins. Five of those wins clinched the series for the Giants.

On Monday, in the postseason, the Giants have (games with asterick were series clinching games) …

  • Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, Giants beat Cardinals 7-1 in Game 2 of the NLCS
  • Monday, Nov. 1, 2010, Giants beat Rangers 3-1 in Game 5 of the World Series*
  • Monday, Oct. 11, 2010, Giants beat Braves 3-2 in Game 4 of NLDS*
  • Monday, Oct. 14, 2002, Giants beat Cardinals 2-1 in Game 5 of NLCS*
  • Monday, Oct. 7, 2002, Giants beat Braves 3-1 in Game 5 of NLDS*
  • Monday, Oct. 9, 1989, Giants beat Cubs 3-2 in Game 5 of NLCS*
  • Monday, Oct. 8, 1962, Giants beat Yankees 7-3 in Game 4 of World Series

The last time the Giants lost a postseason game on a Monday was Game 4 of the 1951 World Series, when they were the New York Giants.

Now some might point to the 1998 one-game playoff for the wild card spot against the Cubs, which the Giants lost 5-3. But that wasn’t a postseason game. Officially, it was regular-season game No. 163.

The Mamas and the Papas once sang “whenever Monday comes, you can find me cryin’ all of the time.”

And “Rainy Days and Mondays” always brought The Carpenters down.

But the San Francisco Giants LOVE Mondays.

Wait a minute. Mondays always bring The Carpenters down? The Cardinals have two Carpenters on their roster.


Ryan Vogelsong pitches San Francisco Giants to Game 7 of NLCS

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong throws during the first inning of Game 6 of baseball’s National League championship series against the St. Louis Cardinals Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)


In 2010,  the Giants captured the World Championship without facing an elimination game.

On Sunday, the Giants’ faced their fifth of the 2012 postseason. Thanks to Ryan Vogelsong, they’ll face their sixth on Monday.

For the second time in this series, Vogelsong limited the Cardinals to a single run over seven outstanding innings of work. Following up the effort of Barry Zito in Game 5, Vogey even delivered an RBI to his cause as the Giants won 6-1 in Game 6 Sunday, forcing a deciding Game 7 on Monday.

Vogelsong set the tone early, striking out six of the first seven batters he faced. Then the offense did its part by giving him a 5-0 lead before Vogelsong would face the eighth Cardinal.

“I just tried to do really the same thing (Zito) did, come out and set the tone early for us,” Vogelsong said, referring to Zito’s performance in Game 5.

And he did, with the bat as well.

The Giants struck first with a run in the bottom of the first. After a walk to Marco Scutaro and a double by Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey’s infield grounder scored Scutaro with the first run.

In the second, with Brandon Belt on third and Brandon Crawford on first and one out, Vogelsong squared to bunt with Crawford taking off for second. Then Vogelsong pulled the bat back and hit a slow grounder to short.

Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma, who had broken to cover second, changed direction to field the ball and dropped it, as Belt scored and the other two runners were safe.

“You try and put as much pressure on them as possible,” Belt said. “You put runners on base and push, and stuff like this happens. We’re doing the same thing we’ve been doing all season: Find some way to get on base, some way to get into scoring position and then some way to get home.”

After Angel Pagan struck out, Scutaro delivered another clutch hit, doubling to left to score Crawford from second and Vogelsong from first.

When asked how he felt after that, Vogelsong said: “Well, I was looking for the oxygen first.”

After Sandoval added an RBI single to make it 5-0 in the second, it was the Cardinals who looked like they were out of gas. Vogelsong kept going on strong, not allowing a hit to the Cardinals until the fifth inning.

The final numbers for Vogelsong: 7 IP, 4 hits, 1 ER, 1 walk and 9 strikeouts.

For the postseason, Vogelsong has given up three runs on 11 hits in 19 innings, for a 1.42 ERA.

And now it’s down to one game, as the Giants comeback magic continues.

They were down 0-2 to the Reds, needing to win three on the road to survive, and they di.

They were down 3-1 to the Cardinals, needing three wins to surviving, and they have achieved two of them.

When asked to explain the team’s resiliency, Giants GM Brian Sabean said:  “I honestly don’t know. In some ways it’s just a human group dynamic. There’s an old saying in sports, it’s not how good you are, it’s how well you play. I don’t know if they love to win as much as they hate to lose.”

Well, the Giants aren’t alone in that description.

With Sunday’s win, the Giants became the eighth team to win five consecutive elimination games in postseason history. Three other teams have also won five: the Red Sox in 2007-08, the Dodgers in 1981, and the Athletics in 1972-73.

If you want good karma, all of those teams won World Series titles, except the 2008 Red Sox.

But to join those world champions, the Giants will have to win a sixth. And that would put them in a class with four other teams to win six in a row: the Tigers in a streak that extended from 1945 to 1972, the Twins in a streak that extended from 1987 to 2002, the 1985 Royals … and these Cardinals, who have six in a row dating back to last season.

Barry Zito rescues the San Francisco Giants ….. again?

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Barry Zito throws during the first inning of Game 5 of baseball’s National League championship series against the St. Louis Cardinals Friday, Oct. 19, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)


Game 1: Cardinals 6, Giants 4
Game 2: Giants 7, Cardinals 1
Game 3: Cardinals 3, Giants 1
Game 4: Cardinals 8, Giants 3
Game 5: Giants 5, Cardinals 0
Game 6: Cardinals (Carpenter) at Giants (Vogelsong), 4:45 p.m. Sunday
Game 7 (if necessary): Cardinals (Lohse) at Giants (Cain), 5:07 p.m. Monday

I didn’t blog after the Giants’ 8-3 loss to the Cardinals on Thursday — not entirely because I was depressed. I was actually busy with other things.

But if I had found the time to blog, this is what I was planning to write.

All hope was not lost, not even with the fact the Giants were behind 3-1 in the National League Championship series, needing once  again to win three consecutive games to advance.

And not because Barry Zito was pitching.

Jayson Stark of ESPN said Wednesday that Game 3 was the game the Giants NEEDED to win, because Matt Cain was on the mound. After Cain came the enigmatic Tim Lincecum (he was right about that one) and then the equally puzzling Barry Zito.

But as someone who has blogged about the Giants all season, I kept thinking back to similar feelings I had about upcoming Zito starts this season.

The situation was this: the Giants were coming off a loss — sometimes a couple of losses — and, oh great, now Zito is pitching.

Then Zito turns in a pearl.

Seven of Zito’s 15 wins this season — that’s almost half — have come on days that followed a Giants’ loss.

It started with  his first win of the season way back on April 9. You remember? Zito was gawd-awful in the spring, stayed in Arizona to “work on some things,” the Giants drop their first three games to the Diamondbacks, then they get Zito pitching in Colorado.

And what did he do? He pitched a shutout, being the Rockies 8-0.

He would do it six more times following a Giants’ loss, including two more when he didn’t allow the opponent to score:

  • June 25 vs. Dodgers, Giants win 8-0
  • July 6 at Pirates, Giants win 6-5
  • August 7 at Cardinals, Giants win 4-2
  • September 9 vs. Dodgers, Giants win 4-0
  • October 2 at Dodgers, Giants win 4-3

Well, Zito did it again on Friday, when the stakes were far higher than they had ever been previously.

He held the Cardinals to no runs on six hits and one walk (which was an intentional walk) while striking out six in 7 2/3 innings, sending the Giants back to San Francisco with the hopes of a pennant still alive.

“I couldn’t be happier for him,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I don’t know how many times we needed to win this year, he found a way to get it done for us.”

Afterwards, Zito knew what the victory meant to him and his team.

“This is definitely it for me,” Zito said. “Coming here, really doing it in a Giants uniform. A lot of people were saying stuff about my A’s days. And for me, the most important thing is doing everything for San Francisco right now.”

And as they have so often this season, the Giants did something for Zito. They got him some runs.

For the second time in this NLCS, the Giants went hitless against Cardinals’ starter Lance Lynn the first time through the lineup.

And for the second time in this NLCS, they jumped on him for a four-run fourth inning.

Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval opened the inning with singles before Buster Posey struck out. Hunter Pence hit a high chopper back to Lynn, who fielded the ball, spun and threw to second. But the ball was low, shortstop Pete Kozma was late in covering, and the ball bounced off the bag and into the outfield, allowing Scutaro to score the game’s first run.

After Brandon Belt popped out — failing to get a runner home from third with less than two out — Gregor Blanco walked. Then Brandon Crawford delivered in the clutch again, as he has before this postseason, smacking a single up the middle to score Sandoval and Pence.

Then Zito made the offensive play of the night for the Giants. After falling behind in the count, he saw David Freese playing deep at third and punched a bunt up the third base line, then hustling down to first for an infield single that scored Blanco with the fourth run.

The play stunned the Cardinals, and even some Giants, too.

“Shocked,” third-base coach Tim Flannery said. “We work on it. We talk about it. But he did that all on his own. It was beautiful – brilliant.”

Said Blanco: “I was thinking, maybe, ball in the dirt, I’ve got to be ready. But I wasn’t expecting that. It was awesome, unbelievable. That’s what I told him: ‘Awesome! Awesome! You’ve got to do it again!’ ”

It wasn’t all Zito after that. Pablo Sandoval added another home run, and the Giants’ defense behind Zito was superb.

But the bottom line is that for the 13th consecutive game that Zito has started, the Giants came away winners.

Incredible. Amazing. Unbelievable.

Now the Giants return home where they will throw Ryan Vogelsong in Game 6, and hopefully Matt Cain in Game 7.

And here’s another amazing thought. If the Giants can pull off another comeback and advance to the World Series, who do you think might get the call at AT&T Park next Wednesday against the Tigers?

Could it be Barry Zito?

Oh, and the last time Zito faced the Tigers, he delivered his only scoreless start of the 2011 season, pitching six scoreless in Detroit on July 2, 2011.

And the Giants scored runs for him, winning 15-3.

NLCS Game 3: St. Louis Cardinals 3, San Francisco Giants 1


Game 1: Cardinals 6, Giants 4
Game 2: Giants 7, Cardinals 1
Game 3: Cardinals 3, Giants 1
Game 4: Giants (Lincecum) at Cardinals (Wainwright), 5:07 p.m. Thursday
Game 5: Giants (Zito) at Cardinals (Lynn), 5:07 p.m. Friday
x-Game 6: Cardinals at Giants, 1:07 p.m. Sunday
x-Game 7: Cardinals at Giants, 5:07 p.m. Monday
x-if necessary

OK, it isn’t time to panic.

But it is time to become worried … at least about Hunter Pence.

At least Hunter Pence’s defense has been good in the postseason (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chris Lee)

Pence repeatedly missed opportunities to deliver in the clutch as his woeful postseason at the plate continued.

After going 4 for 20 (.200) with no RBI in the NLDS, he is now 1 for 11 with no RBI in the NLCS. That’s a whopping .161 for the postseason.

The Giants’ biggest scoring threat came in the top of the third when Angel Pagan singled and Marco Scutaro slapped a double down the right-field line, putting runners on second and third and nobody out.

Pablo Sandoval followed with a sacrifice fly scoring Pagan and sending Scutaro to third.

The Cardinals then intentionally walked Buster Posey. Then Pence came up and grounded into an inning-ending double play.

In the fifth with two outs, the Cardinals walked Posey again. Pence grounded out to short.

In the seventh, Pablo Sandoval hits a one-out liner off the wall in left, but only managed a single. That angered many Giants, but it didn’t really matter. Because if Sandoval had doubled, the Cardinals would have simply walked Posey again.

At least with Sandoval staying at first, Posey at least got a chance to swing the bat. He delivered a single to left, putting runners at first and second and one out.

This time, Pence struck out.

“I’m the goat tonight. I just didn’t get the job done,” Pence said.

Well, there were plenty of oats to go around the Giants’ lineup.

With runner at second and third and two out in the fourth, Angel Pagan flied out to center to end the inning. In the sixth, with two on and two out, Pagan grounded out to end the inning.

In the seventh, after Pence struck out, Brandon Belt struck out looking.

In the end, it was one run on nine hits and FIVE walks.

The hole in the lineup that is Pence is making it easy for teams to pitch around Posey, who is being followed in the lineup by a guy who strikes out swinging too much and then a who strikes out looking too much.

The guy who strikes out looking might find himself looking from the bench in Game 5.

Bruce Bochy said he would consider lineup changes for Game 5. Bay Area media members said that would likely include Hector Sanchez catching and Buster Posey at first base.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News suggested a lineup that would look like this:

CF Angel Pagan
LF Gregor Blanco
2B Marco Scutaro
1B Buster Posey
3B Pablo Sandoval
C Hector Sanchez
RF Hunter Pence
SS Brandon Crawford

I doubt we’ll see a lineup with Pence hitting seventh. It’s not Bochy’s style. But some kind of shakeup is needed right now.

Matt Holliday-Marco Scutaro fallout: At what point will MLB place player safety above machismo?

San Francisco Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro grimaces as his leg is caught under a sliding St. Louis Cardinals’ Matt Holliday on a double play attempt during the first inning of Game 2 of baseball’s National League championship series Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Giants manager Bruce Bochy called it an illegal play.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny called the play “hard, but within the rules.”

So who’s right? Well, opinions varied Tuesday, a day after the Cardinals’ Matt Holliday injured Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro in an effort to break up a double play in Monday’s Game 2 of the National League championship series.

Scutaro was diagnosed with a strained hip, but expects to play Wednesday in Game 3. So that’s the good news.

Wording of some MLB rules are often vague and open to interpretation. And that’s why opinions on plays like the one Monday are so varied.

In Rule 6.05 (m), pertaining to a batter is out when …

“A preceding runner shall, in the umpire’s judgment, intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play.”

Seems pretty clear there. And applied to this play, Holliday and batter Allen Craig should have been ruled out, which would have been little consolation for an injured Scutaro. However, if this rule had been enforced in the past, and fines and suspensions were attached to blatant violators, then that would deter runners from doing what Holliday did.

However, it’s the comment on this rule that opens it up to interpretation.

“The objective of this rule is to penalize the offensive team for deliberate, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike action by the runner in leaving the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, rather than trying to reach the base. Obviously this is an umpire’s judgment play.”

Some interpret “by .. leaving the baseline” to mean that as long as the runner is in the baseline that anything he does there is fair game.

But others would look at “obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man … rather than trying to reach the base” and see that clearly Holliday’s intent was to contact Scutaro and not the base, as he didn’t contact Scutaro until after he passed the base.

This is the issue Billy Ripken took with the play on MLB Network. Ripken said he had no problems with contact on plays that occur in the baseline between first and second base. But Ripken pointed out that Scutaro positioned himself on the far end of the bag for protection, knowing that Holliday would have to slide over the bag to get to him. Holliday solved this problem by not starting his slide (i.e. hitting the ground) until after he passed the bag, and Scutaro got no relief from the umpires.

But another veteran infielder on MLB Network, Larry Bowa, didn’t understand the hub-bub over the play, saying it was just a baseball play. He added that’s the way the game has been played for years. Bowa said “we could put skirts on these guys” showing how old he is and how out-of-date his thinking is.

Baseball is by nature a non-contact sport, and it should be played that way. Any contact should be incidental.

Fans don’t go to the game to see players crash into each other. They go to football games for that.

They go to see players play, and MLB needs to make sure it can do all it can to make sure that happens.

The simple solution is to follow high school rules on sliding into a bag.

High school rules defines that a legal slide “can be either feet first or head first. If a runner slides feet first, at least one leg and buttock shall be on the ground. If a runner slides, he must slide within reach of the base with either a hand or a foot.”

And an illegal slide occurs “when a runner uses a rolling, cross-body or pop-up slide into the fielder; the runner’s raised leg is higher than the fielder’s knee when the fielder is in a standing position; the runner goes beyond the base and makes contact with or alters the play of the fielder; the runner slashes or kicks the fielder with either leg; or the runner tries to injure the infielder.”

Now that’s clear and not open to discussion. An illegal slide equals interference. If the rule is blatantly broken, ejections, fines and suspensions will ensue.

Problem solved, and it allows the best players decide which teams should advance in the postseason.