Despite NLCS loss, Cards happy to be in 'Final Four'

Wainwright led strong pitching staff with second career 20-win season

Despite NLCS loss, Cards happy to be in 'Final Four'

ST. LOUIS -- Based solely on the endpoint, the Cardinals essentially did as most expected them to in 2014, a year in which they entered as overwhelming favorites to repeat as National League Central champions. It was the route in which they got there, however, that went largely off course.

A season that Mike Matheny recently described as the most challenging of his three as manager was indeed adversity-laden, despite the fact that the Cardinals finished as one of just three NL teams with 90 wins. Injuries to key players took their toll, and the offense never clicked for extended periods. That's why it took until September for the Cardinals to sit atop the NL Central alone, bumping the Brewers after their 150-day stay.

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In many ways, the Cardinals seemed less than a sum of their parts, a team capable of more. And yet, they still maximized a run differential of plus-16. Six clubs had higher run differentials than St. Louis but fewer wins. The team's knack for winning so many close games explains that disparity. That small margin of error was reflective of the team's troubles scoring in bunches, as this was a club that leaned heavily on pitching and defense to get it through.

"There are challenges that are different every night," Matheny said on Monday, recapping the season. "But overall, when you look at the consistency of this club, and that's one of the things we ask for -- we ask for them to compete and work and bring everything they have. That's really how we define success -- how they show up every day -- and I thought they did that regardless of whatever obstacles got in the way, right down to the end. [There were] plenty of challenges along the way. I thought everyone responded well."

In the end, the Cardinals did capture a second straight division title, an accomplishment that deserves sufficient recognition even if the club had aspirations of a deeper October run. The Cardinals advanced to the NL Championship Series for a fourth straight season (a first for the organization) and further solidified itself as one of the dominant franchises of the 2000s.

Since the turn of the century, the Cardinals have been postseason participants in 11 of 15 seasons. No club can claim more October exposure during that span. It is that difficulty in being perennial World Series contenders that left the organization mostly content with the outcome, even if the journey was bumpier than planned.

"All of us deem this a successful season," general manager John Mozeliak said. "There's no doubt that when you get to the level that we play at, a World Championship is always the goal of where you set your sights. But having said that, being part of the Final Four of baseball is still a wonderful accomplishment, and it's really a credit not only to our players and our Major League staff, but to our organization as a whole."

Record: 90-72, NL Central champs

Defining moment: The final moment is also often the most lasting, and for the Cardinals, that will be watching Travis Ishikawa belt a Michael Wacha fastball over AT&T Park's Levi's Landing to send the Giants to the World Series. The home run ended the Cardinals' pursuit of a third World Series trip in four years and left Matheny to take the heat on his decision to put Wacha on the mound after a near three-week layoff. With the Game 5 loss in the NLCS, the Cardinals' season, for a third straight year, came to an abrupt end with a three-game losing streak.

What went right: Led by Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals' rotation ranked fifth in the NL with a 3.44 ERA. Wainwright became a 20-game winner for the second time, while Lance Lynn emerged as a future ace. He secured his third straight 15-win season. ... Attempts to improve the club defensively were fruitful, as the Cardinals finished second in the Majors in Defensive Runs Saved. Using the DRS metric, no club showed a greater improvement defensively from 2013-14 than St. Louis. ... Jhonny Peralta outperformed his contract in the first season of his four-year deal. He set a franchise record for single-season homers by a shortstop and was one of the league's best defensively at the position. ... Once unsure of his fit in the Cardinals' plans, Jon Jay reemerged as an above-average center fielder. He was the team's best second-half performer offensively and looked a step faster in the outfield after a poor 2013 season. ... Pat Neshek, who joined the club on a Minor League deal, and Trevor Rosenthal, navigating through his first full season as a closer, offered a formidable one-two punch in the back end of the bullpen. Though Rosenthal added drama and Neshek slipped late, the Cardinals still finished 77-5 when leading after seven innings. ... Kolten Wong and Marco Gonzales were among the young players to shine in October, perhaps a harbinger of things to come.

What went wrong: Injuries stalled the Cardinals' ability to reach the stay atop the NL Central until the final month. Yadier Molina missed seven weeks with a thumb injury, while starters Wacha and Jaime Garcia went down the same week in June with arm issues. Garcia didn't return. Wacha came back in September, but was compromised from time away. ... A year after leading all players with his .454 average hitting with runners in scoring position, Allen Craig provided little production in right field. That eventually led the Cardinals to deal him away at the Trade Deadline. ... The other Deadline deal proved fruitless, as Justin Masterson struggled in the rotation and then didn't factor into much after August. ... Kevin Siegrist did not become the lefty setup man St. Louis envisioned. Carlos Martinez also had an up-and-down season and was not as reliable in the late innings as initially expected. ... Acquired to help the Cardinals flash more speed, Peter Bourjos never showed enough offensively to warrant everyday playing time. As a result, the team stole only 12 more bases (57) than it did in 2013.

Biggest surprise: Coming off a 2013 season in which they led the NL in runs scored by a wide margin, the Cardinals never jelled offensively in '14. They scored about a run less per game and ranked 29th in the Majors with 105 home runs, the fewest in a season by the club in more than 20 years. Right field proved to be a particularly troublesome spot, as was second base for a large portion of the season. While St. Louis knew it would not repeat its RISP success (.330 batting average) from 2013, it also did not anticipate featuring such a labor-intensive offense.

Hitter of the Year: Peralta. The Cardinals have no regrets over signing Peralta to the largest free-agent deal the franchise has ever given to a player not already in the organization. He led the team with 21 home runs and 38 doubles a year after sitting out 50 games due to his connection to Biogenesis. Peralta finished the season as the team's cleanup hitter against left-handed pitchers.

Pitcher of the Year: Wainwright. Despite battling a knee issue early and elbow troubles throughout the year, Wainwright finished as just one of three 20-game winners in baseball. He missed only one start and still led all St. Louis starters in innings pitched (227), complete games (five), shutouts (three) and quality starts (25).

Rookie of the Year: Wong. Though he was sent down to the Minors in late April and then missed time with a sore shoulder in June/July, Wong finished the year by showing why the Cardinals were intent on opening second base up for him. He contributed seven extra-base hits and six RBIs in his coming-out postseason party. Wong has long been a solid defender, and he showed that he can also be an offensive asset, particularly when he keeps his swing short.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cardinals prioritize upgrading bench, bullpen

St. Louis to rely on returning players to fill rotation, everyday spots

Cardinals prioritize upgrading bench, bullpen

ST. LOUIS -- Describing the organization's offseason strategy as opportunistic, general manager John Mozeliak is expected to seek bullpen and bench depth this offseason, while relying on returning players to fill the rotation and starting position player spots.

"When you look at our overall club for next year, we feel pretty comfortable with where we're at," Mozeliak said. "But we certainly want to make some needed adjustments if possible."

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The Cardinals are unlikely to re-sign any of their five free agents -- Mark Ellis, Jason Motte, Pat Neshek, A.J. Pierzynski or Justin Masterson. The loss of Neshek and Motte creates some additional need in the bullpen, and speaking specifically of adding another left-handed option, Mozeliak said, "If we can upgrade there or have an additional arm to choose from, that makes sense."

The Cardinals hit the jackpot with the signing of Neshek last January and may also look to address the issue of bullpen depth with a similar under-the-radar signing later in the offseason. Mozeliak would not speculate as to whether the Cardinals might find more fertile ground for additions via the trade market or free-agent pool.

On the position player end, the Cardinals will look to add a right-handed bat to the bench, possibly one that could also spell Matt Adams at first base against left-handed pitching. Mozeliak downplayed finding Adams a platoon partner as a necessity, but described it as something he'll "definitely explore if we can find something."

Mozeliak's hesitancy in promising an offensive upgrade is couched in the reality that so many teams are looking for offensive help this winter. That will make bats harder to find, particularly if the Cardinals only have part-time jobs to offer.

Mozeliak said he will consider finding ways to add experience to a bench that has trended young in recent years. He also did not rule out exploring the catching market to add another option behind Yadier Molina. Tony Cruz is a first-time arbitration-eligible player.

Worth noting
• While the Cardinals have not ruled out a starting future for Carlos Martinez, the organization is already loosely projecting the right-hander as an eighth-inning setup man next season. Trevor Rosenthal will come to Spring Training with his grip still on the closer's role.

• The Cardinals will have lefty Marco Gonzales report to Spring Training, competing for a job in the starting rotation. But if there is not a spot for Gonzales among the starting five, the club is expected to heavily consider him for a place in the bullpen, given what he showed in a relief role late this year.

• Acknowledging that he has heard much of the criticism following his decision to pitch Michael Wacha in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, manager Mike Matheny refrained from sharing more specifics about that decision to avoid indicating why he may not have felt comfortable going to other players in that spot.

"Just to cover my decisions and why I did it isn't worth it for the risk it could be for the long-term effect with these guys and what we work all season to build up with them," Matheny said. "You've got to realize, too, when we're talking about why we decided to go with one person over another, these guys follow this stuff, too. If there is a reason why we might lean against one with one particular guy; it's not necessarily something you want to make public."

• Mozeliak indicated that the Cardinals plan to tender Peter Bourjos, who is arbitration-eligible for the second time, a contract this winter. Bourjos won't see too sharp an increase from the $1.2 million he earned in 2014. Mozeliak also said that the organization will discuss ways in which they might better optimize Bourjos' skill set in 2015.

• Rawlings will release its Gold Glove Award finalists (three for each position for each league) on Thursday, the company announced on Monday. Molina has won six straight, though that string is in jeopardy since he missed seven weeks due to injury.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Jay to have wrist surgery; Yadi, Waino prescribed rest

Cards expect center fielder to resume offseason routine after 6-8 weeks

Jay to have wrist surgery; Yadi, Waino prescribed rest

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals intend to tender Jon Jay, a second-year arbitration-eligible player, a contract this winter and have him open the season as the team's starting center fielder. But before any of that happens, Jay will have his left wrist scoped in order to address an injury that occurred about three months ago.

General manager John Mozeliak, speaking at an end-of-the-season media debriefing, made that announcement on Monday while also providing updates on others recovering from injury. Jay is the only player currently scheduled to have an offseason procedure. After Wednesday's scope, he is expected to need 6-8 weeks to recover before resuming a normal offseason training program.

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"We're very optimistic that it will be a relatively simple procedure," Mozeliak added.

How Jay hurt his wrist remains unclear, but Mozeliak said Jay began receiving treatment on it in late July. In order to continue playing through the discomfort, Jay reduced the number of swings he took pregame. None of it did anything to affect production, however, as Jay hit .325/.410/.394 over the final two months of the regular season and then went 14-for-29 in October.

Here is a rundown of additional injury updates, as offered by Mozeliak:

Yadier Molina (left oblique strain, right thumb injury): The Cardinals expect Molina to be 100 percent by the start of Spring Training after addressing both injuries with sufficient offseason rest.

Adam Wainwright (right elbow discomfort): Wainwright visited with the medical staff on Friday, and they found no reason to have long-term concern about Wainwright's elbow. The Cardinals plan for him is to have a normal offseason during which he'll benefit primarily from rest. The club will likely cut back on Wainwright's workload in Spring Training to compensate for his innings count over the past two seasons.

Michael Wacha (right shoulder stress reaction): Wacha underwent an MRI on Friday, and the Cardinals were encouraged to learn that it came back clean. "Even the doctors were a little surprised on how that looked," Mozeliak added. Wacha plans to follow a normal offseason program.

Jaime Garcia (thoracic outlet surgery): Garcia underwent the procedure in July and the recovery time remains somewhat fluid. The Cardinals likely won't know until Spring Training whether Garcia will be a factor on the Opening Day roster.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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With RF unsettled, Cards think Taveras can step up

Grichuk, Piscotty other options for St. Louis in right field

With RF unsettled, Cards think Taveras can step up

ST. LOUIS -- The only truly unsettled spot as the Cardinals begin to project their eight starting position players for next spring is right field, though it is also a position that the organization believes can be filled internally.

The Cardinals will consider Randal Grichuk, Oscar Taveras and Stephen Piscotty for that right-field job, with 2014 performance, completion of offseason goals and Spring Training all factoring into the decision. Piscotty is the only one of the three not to have cracked the Major League roster this season.

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Grichuk was the team's starting right fielder throughout the postseason, though the end-of-the-season roles were not an indication that the Cardinals have soured on Taveras' ability or potential to have a long-term impact. The organization's consensus top prospect heading into 2014, Taveras endured a season laced with adversity. He struggled when given everyday playing time and was exposed defensively after lagging with his conditioning work.

And yet …

"I think he can be a star, and I think he showed things all season long that showed that," manager Mike Matheny said on Monday. "You see some things there offensively that absolutely excite you. … I think part of that process is that he's never been pushed and never naturally had that passion for the defensive side of the game. He's never had that passion for the baserunning and some of the minor details, which are things that he's now seen guys in that clubhouse who have been around here for a long time, it's all. It's all or nothing. I think that's part of his maturing."

Both general manager John Mozeliak and Matheny sat down with Taveras at the end of the season to outline their suggestions for an offseason plan. Mozeliak said the organization would like to have Taveras spend November at the Cardinals' Florida complex in Jupiter, after which Taveras will return to the Dominican Republic to play winter ball for about three weeks. He will then go back to Jupiter by January and remain there until the start of Spring Training.

Though the Cardinals seem to have substantial depth in the outfield going into 2015, Mozeliak said he does not expect to deal from this area of strength. The Cardinals like having several right-field options since there is uncertainty as to whether any of the three young outfielders will seize the opportunity to be an everyday player right away next spring. That is especially true of Taveras.

"I think he now understands the ownership he needs to take moving forward," Mozeliak said of Taveras. "[The] game is pretty simple. You either do or you don't. When we get to Jupiter next year, we're going to know what he did, and we'll know if we can count on him or not. This offseason we're going to make the bet we can. But that's the only uncertainty moving forward."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cards expect full coaching staff to return

ST. LOUIS -- Unless any of manager Mike Matheny's coaches choose to take a position elsewhere, the Cardinals anticipate retaining their full coaching staff for 2015. Most members of the staff are already under contract for next season, and general manager John Mozeliak indicated on Monday that any who aren't will be offered an opportunity to return.

If the Cardinals were to bring back their entire coaching staff, it would be a first since Matheny assumed the managerial seat. He had to replace hitting coaches before both the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

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Those changes over the past two seasons did come voluntarily, as Mark McGwire left for Los Angeles and Bengie Molina went to Texas. There has been speculation that the A's, who are looking for a new bench coach upon Chip Hale's departure for Arizona, could go after Cardinals bench coach Mike Aldrete. As was recently outlined in a San Francisco Chronicle story, Aldrete is from the Bay Area and was teammates with Oakland manager Bob Melvin.

Mozeliak said that there has not yet been a formal request by another club to interview one of the organization's coaches for a vacant position.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cardinals' season ends in heartbreak by the Bay

Wacha allows walk-off homer to Ishikawa in Game 5 loss to Giants

Cardinals' season ends in heartbreak by the Bay

SAN FRANCISCO -- It took nine postseason games for the Cardinals to carry a lead into the seventh inning, a feat finally accomplished on Thursday. But their inability to make it hold for another nine outs cost them the chance to take this National League Championship Series home and left them to again watch the Giants hoist the NL pennant.

For the second time in three Octobers, the Cardinals' quest for a World Series championship stalled at AT&T Park, a venue where the Cardinals have now lost six straight playoff games. Their 90-win season -- one in which they secured a second straight NL Central title by overcoming several key injuries and an inconsistent offense -- ended with a 6-3 walk-off loss in Game 5, as Travis Ishikawa's three-run homer into Levi's Landing off reliever Michael Wacha sent the sellout crowd into a frenzy and the Giants back to the World Series for the third time in five seasons.

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"There's no question that everybody in this room is hurting right now," Matt Carpenter said. "But at the end of the day, when you look at what we were able to accomplish with the adversity that we had, some of the injuries, battling all the way to win the division and get us to this point, there's a lot to be proud of. It's going to probably take a while to let that sink in and appreciate what we were able to accomplish. Right now it does hurt."

  Date Recaps Video
Gm 1 Oct. 11 SF 3, STL 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 12 STL 5, SF 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14 SF 5, STL 4 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15 SF 6, STL 4 video
Gm 5 Oct. 16 SF 6, STL 3 video

It was the second last-at-bat win in the series for San Francisco, which won four of five games despite outscoring the Cardinals by only eight runs. The Giants got their final tallies off the Cardinals' bullpen, with Pat Neshek serving up a game-tying homer to Michael Morse in the eighth and Wacha, pitching for the first time since Sept. 26, allowing Ishikawa's blast, the third homer of the night for San Francisco, which hadn't hit one in any of the series' first four games.

With it, the Giants, winners in each of their last nine postseason series, foiled a potential all-Missouri matchup in the Fall Classic and halted the Cardinals' pursuit of a fifth NL pennant since 2004.

"It felt like a dogfight," said manager Mike Matheny. "I think the Giants, even though we only snuck out one, I think they knew we were in for the fight. We punched hard."

WHAT WENT WRONG

Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright did all he could to will his team home with at least one game left on the schedule. His only big mistake was serving up a two-run homer to Joe Panik in the third, though the Cardinals answered back with solo blasts from Matt Adams and Tony Cruz a half-inning later to scoot back in front against Madison Bumgarner.

The Cardinals had already scored once off Bumgarner in the third, when Ishikawa misplayed Jon Jay's fly ball to left field. The Cards' inability to get anything more in the inning -- Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta went down with two runners in scoring position -- loomed large later.

Wainwright carried the one-run lead through the seventh, at which time Matheny, in a decision he later called a no-brainer given how hard his ace had fought through 97 pitches, asked his 'pen to get the final six outs. But before he could get the first, Neshek allowed the fifth pinch-hit home run in Giants postseason history.

"Once I saw that Neshek was warming up ... I went into the cage [and] had our BP guys throwing a little sidearm, kind of like what he does, to simulate it," Morse said. "He's such a good pitcher. If there's one guy in that bullpen I didn't want to face this whole series, it was him."

Previously designated as the Cardinals' extra-inning long reliever, Wacha was thrust into the ninth-inning spot largely because of Marco Gonzales' unavailability. Trouble started quickly, with Pablo Sandoval singling and Brandon Belt drawing a one-out walk off a pitcher who had made just four appearances since a stress reaction injury in his right shoulder shut him down in June.

Swinging at a 2-0 fastball, Ishikawa ended the game, leaving Wacha to take the loss in the team's final game for the second straight year.

"I felt just as strong as I did last season," Wacha said. "Coming back from that injury, they gave me plenty of time, and I came back and my arm's been feeling great and my body's been feeling great. I was ready to pitch."

THE MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

Panik at the Frisco: Panik took Wainwright's 1-0 cutter and deposited it over the right-field wall to give the Giants a brief third-inning lead. The rookie second baseman had gone deep just once in his first 332 Major League plate appearances, and San Francisco had gone 243 plate appearances since its last home run. In seven previous starts at AT&T Park, Wainwright had allowed one home run.

"The Panik pitch he hit out, it was really a pretty good pitch," Wainwright said. "It was in off the plate, and he made a very good swing. Baseball players occasionally will make good swings on balls. Aside from the pitch he hit out, I was sharp most of the day."

Fourth-inning power display: The Cardinals, last in the NL in homers during the regular season, once again rode the long ball to a lead in Game 5. Solo homers by Adams and Cruz bumped the club's postseason total to 15; those accounted for 21 of the team's 34 runs.

Both of Thursday's homers were pretty improbable, too. After hitting three against left-handed pitching (121 at-bats) this season, Adams tagged Bumgarner for one, just as he had Clayton Kershaw in the NL Division Series. Cruz, making his first postseason start, had hit one home run all year. His gave the Cardinals a 3-2 lead.

"It was a slider," Cruz said. "I was looking for something out over the middle, and I tried to put a good swing on it. Thankfully, I did."

Hanging slider: Tasked with bridging the game from Wainwright to closer Trevor Rosenthal, Neshek lost the one-run lead three pitches into his night. Morse, whose only previous pinch-hit homer came in 2009, dropped Neshek's slider just over the wall in the left-field corner. Neshek had retired 18 straight this postseason before the hit.

"I didn't get the snap, but I didn't think he would keep it fair," Neshek said. "He did. It was a terrible pitch. I think a lot of guys would have done that, but it was hard to keep that fair. Usually when I throw those, I'll make a mistake and it will go 100 feet foul. He's a big guy, and that's what he does. He hits home runs."

Neshek, who gave up two home runs to right-handed batters during the regular season, allowed two this postseason. The other was Matt Kemp's go-ahead homer in Game 2 of the NLDS.

Panda-like reflexes: Despite losing their lead in the eighth, the Cardinals stirred immediately against Santiago Casilla in the ninth, with two of the first three reaching. Kolten Wong, who had seven extra-base hits this postseason, lined Casilla's pitch toward left, thinking he had another run-scoring knock.

But third baseman Sandoval got his glove on the ball while diving, and the ball kicked straight to shortstop Brandon Crawford, who threw to second for a forceout. The inning later ended with pinch-hitter Oscar Taveras grounding out with the bases full.

"We thought things were finally going to turn our way," Wong said. "That play Panda made on the ball I hit, if that ball gets through, that's a run and it changes the whole thing. Just little things like that that happened just really didn't go our way at all."

Walk-off stinger: Ishikawa, who started the year in Pittsburgh before joining the Giants on a Minor League deal, became the fourth player in Major League history (first in the NL) to clinch a berth in the World Series with a walk-off home run. The Giants set up the inning for him with a leadoff single and one-out walk off a rusty Wacha.

"I was looking fastball," Ishikawa said. "I knew that he didn't want to get behind 3-0, [with the] chance of walking the bases loaded. I was just trying to be aggressive."

KEY MANAGERIAL DECISION

Why Wacha? That was the question Matheny was left to answer several times in the aftermath of the season-ending loss, as he had abstained from using Wacha for eight postseason games only to throw the right-hander into the ninth inning of an elimination game. Wacha had been earmarked as the team's extra-inning guy, but the absence of Gonzales (usage concerns) left the Cardinals short in the 'pen.

Holding Rosenthal out for a potential save situation, Matheny had four ninth-inning choices: Carlos Martinez, Randy Choate, Wacha or Seth Maness. He did not like how Martinez matched up with the lefties coming up and preferred Wacha over Choate, given Choate's troubles in that part of the lineup the other day. Wacha had been forewarned pregame that his role could change on Thursday, and Wacha said afterward he was not in any way physically limited.

"I put a lot on him. I put him in a tough spot," Matheny acknowledged. "He was going to have to come in and fill in for what Marco would have done today. It comes down to whether we want to go to Randy in that situation with Maness behind him, or we trust Michael's stuff. And every single guy in that room will tell you we trust Michael and what he's got right now."

Matheny added that he stuck with Wacha against Ishikawa believing that the Giants would have hit for the left-handed outfielder had he summoned the lefty Choate.

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS

• The previous three players to win an LCS with a walk-off homer were Detroit's Magglio Ordonez (2006), the Yankees' Aaron Boone (2003) and the Yanks' Chris Chambliss (1976).

• Ishikawa's homer was the second walk-off hit to win an NLCS in Giants history, and the Cardinals have now been on the wrong end of both. The other came in Game 7 of the 2002 NLCS, when Steve Kline allowed a game-winning single to Kenny Lofton. The runner who scored on that hit? David Bell, now the Cardinals' assistant hitting coach.

• Before the fourth-inning homers from Cruz and Adams, the Cardinals have never hit two home runs in one inning of a postseason road game. It had happened four times previously at home.

ONE FOR THE HISTORY BOOKS

Jay collected the Cardinals' first hit off Bumgarner with a first-inning single, one that also put the center fielder in the franchise record books for reaching base in the most consecutive postseason games. Jay has reached safely in 16 straight, dating back to Game 3 of the 2013 NLCS. Pete Kozma, Yadier Molina and Jim Edmonds each had 15-game streaks.

Oddly enough, though, Jay also set a Major League record for the most postseason at-bats without an extra-base hit. That string was at 92 when he snapped it with a third-inning RBI double.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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In must-win Game 5, Wainwright returns to form

St. Louis ace departs with lead after seven innings, but bullpen can't preserve it

In must-win Game 5, Wainwright returns to form

SAN FRANCISCO -- Facing elimination, the Cardinals handed the ball to their ace on Thursday without any hint of trepidation, even though he's scuffled during these playoffs.

But in Game 5 at AT&T Park, and with the Cards needing a victory to stay alive in the National League Championship Series against the Giants, Adam Wainwright looked like his old self.

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"He did everything we could hope for," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny.

  Date Recaps Video
Gm 1 Oct. 11 SF 3, STL 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 12 STL 5, SF 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14 SF 5, STL 4 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15 SF 6, STL 4 video
Gm 5 Oct. 16 SF 6, STL 3 video

Wainwright, rediscovering his curveball, allowed two runs on four hits over seven innings and struck out seven, getting better as the game went on in a 97-pitch gem that saw him leave with the lead.

"I laid it on the line," he said.

In the end, though, Wainwright's outing wasn't enough as the Giants rallied to tie the game and then got a three-run walk-off home run from Travis Ishikawa in the ninth inning for a 6-3 victory to send them to the World Series against the Royals.

The loss sent the Cards home, which was where they were hoping to head late Thursday anyway -- though with hopes of playing Games No. 6 and 7 at Busch Stadium. Instead, their season is over.

"I wish we could have won that game to get back to St. Louis," Wainwright said. "You never know what could happen. The Giants proved that a few years ago [trailing 3-1, came back to win the NLCS in 2012 against St. Louis]. I wanted to get the ball back in [Game 6 starter] Lance Lynn's hands

"I was confident if we got back to St. Louis, we could be very dangerous."

Wainwright, who allowed six runs in a start against the Dodgers in the NL Division Series and lasted just 4 2/3 innings in a Game 1 loss in this series, has spent more time this week talking about his right elbow than his performance.

Video: Wainwright on his NLCS outing

Wainwright, who had Tommy John surgery in 2011, made comments recently about feeling stiffness in his elbow. He later insisted he felt fine. No one asked Wainwright about the elbow after his start on Thursday.

That's probably because Wainwright made the Giants look like they were swinging a wet noodle, mostly with the use of one of his best pitches -- the curveball, which had deserted him previously in the postseason. The curveball was the pitch he used to finish off five of the seven hitters he struck out.

"I felt comfortable with it early on," the veteran righty said. "In Game 1, I was having a hard time not yanking it to the left-handed batter's box. Today, I was able to throw it back door, to both sides of the plate. That's usually the way I work."

Video: Matheny on Waino's start

Wainwright, who left after 97 pitches, threw 34 curveballs, including 25 of them from the fourth inning on.

"It was fun to watch," said Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter.

Matheny replaced Wainwright after the seventh, which Wainwright said was the smart decision.

"Mike checked with my after the sixth and I told him I had one more inning," Wainwright said. "… I was running low on gas. I wish I could have pitched nine. I would have more than gladly gutted it out. But in my mind, the next guy would have been better than me.

Video: Adams, Waino combine on defense

"I put everything I had into every pitch today. In that spot, up a run and against [Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner], I felt we were in a good spot. I think he [Matheny] made the right call."

The bullpen couldn't finish the job, as Pat Neshek allowed a game-tying pinch-hit home run to Michael Morse in the eighth. One inning later, Ishikawa ended the game with his home run off Michael Wacha.

Wainwright allowed a home run himself, the first of the series, a two-run shot to Joe Panik in the third inning. Undaunted, Wainwright didn't waver thereafter.

"I felt really good from the first pitch of the game on," he said. "Aside from the pitch he [Panik] hit out, I was sharp most of the day."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Put in 'tough spot,' Wacha allows series-ending homer

Cardinals manager Matheny says he wasn't afraid to send righty to mound in ninth inning

Put in 'tough spot,' Wacha allows series-ending homer

SAN FRANCISCO -- Nineteen days had come and gone without Michael Wacha throwing a meaningful pitch before he stepped into the center of the baseball universe on Thursday to throw the most important pitches of the Cardinals' season. One hundred and seventy-one more days will pass before Opening Day 2015, leaving plenty of time to dissect whether the Cardinals made the right choice.

"I can imagine a lot of people are going to second-guess how he was used and why," general manager John Mozeliak said after Wacha and the Cardinals were eliminated with a 6-3 loss to the Giants in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Travis Ishikawa's walk-off home run. "But this guy, what he's shown and what he's done in the past, he wanted this opportunity. Unfortunately, it just didn't work out for him.

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"We expect a lot of big things from him. It just didn't work tonight."

The fact it did not work will remain a matter of much debate, but here are the facts: Wacha, pitching for the first time since Sept. 26 at the end of a season marred by shoulder woes, was called upon to preserve a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the ninth inning at AT&T Park, the place still buzzing from Michael Morse's electrifying home run in the eighth inning, and by the Giants' bases-loaded escape in the top of the ninth.

Wacha faced four batters and retired only one. Pablo Sandoval singled. Hunter Pence flew out. Brandon Belt walked on four pitches. Wacha fell behind on Ishikawa as well, then finally found the strike zone with a 96-mph fastball that Ishikawa didn't miss.

Video: Ishikawa's walk-off homer

The winning home run was launched into the seats above right field, and the Giants were headed to the World Series.

"I put him in a tough place without giving him much work lately. That's on me," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "He's a star. I can't wait to watch him pitch again when he's healthy and watch over a full season what he's going to do. I like having him out there. I'm not ever afraid to get him on the mound."

Matheny shared the same sentiment with Wacha after the game.

Asked about that exchange, and his manager acknowledging the "tough spot," Wacha said, "You know, I've pitched in the postseason before. I've pitched in some tough innings, in some hostile environments. I was ready for it. I just wasn't able to throw strikes. Walks and then falling behind to Ishikawa there -- I got myself in trouble."

  Date Recaps Video
Gm 1 Oct. 11 SF 3, STL 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 12 STL 5, SF 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14 SF 5, STL 4 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15 SF 6, STL 4 video
Gm 5 Oct. 16 SF 6, STL 3 video

But those tough innings in hostile environments last season were much different. Wacha, a first-round Draft pick of the Cardinals in 2012, was a late-season star in the starting rotation, winning NLCS MVP honors before making a pair of World Series starts.

This year, Wacha was limited to 19 starts in the regular season because of a stress reaction in his right shoulder that sidelined him from the middle of June through early September. When he rejoined the active roster, it was in a diminished capacity. Wacha was 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA in four September starts, only one of which lasted five innings.

He had been idle in the Cardinals' bullpen during the postseason -- reserved, Matheny had said in recent days, for extra-innings situations. But with the Cardinals' bullpen depleted by usage in Games 3 and 4, that plan quietly changed entering Game 5.

"I knew it would be a little bit different than what it had been," Wacha said. "Today it was more, 'Hey, you're going to get thrown in there and you're going to get some important outs.'"

Using Wacha was not Matheny's only controversial decision in the inning. In the top of the ninth, the slow-footed Matt Adams drew a one-out walk. Matheny did not pinch-run for Adams at first, which backfired when Randal Grichuk singled down the left field line and Adams only managed to get to second base when a faster runner would have had a shot at reaching third. It was only then that Daniel Descalso was sent in to run for Adams, but it was too late for St. Louis, as the Cards did not get another hit.

When the bottom of the ninth inning came along, Matheny's other options were right-handed closer Trevor Rosenthal, setup man Carlos Martinez, ground-ball machine Seth Maness and left-hander Randy Choate.

Video: Cardinals exit NLCS in five games

Young left-hander Marco Gonzales, a starter who had worked his way into a prominent relief role this postseason, was not available after pitching in back-to-back games, Matheny indicated. Maness would have been a curious choice because the Giants were in a part of the lineup with a series of left-handed hitters. After Wacha walked Belt on four straight pitches, Matheny didn't go to Choate because the Giants would have countered with a right-handed hitter. The Cardinals preferred Wacha's power stuff against Ishikawa.

Matheny also ruled out Rosenthal, saying, "We can't bring him in in a tie-game situation when we're on the road.

"It comes down to whether we want to go to Randy in that situation with Maness behind him, or we trust Michael's stuff. And every single guy in that room will tell you we trust Michael and what he's got right now."

Video: Cards on being eliminated

"I had total faith in [Wacha] in that situation," said Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter. "He has nothing to be ashamed of. He's a guy that's played a big part in this team for the last couple years, and he's gonna play a huge part for years to come. I'm sure he's upset, and we're upset for him. I hate that that happened. But he's got nothing to hang his head about."

Wacha insisted he had his good stuff.

"I felt just as strong as I did last season," he said. "Coming back from that injury, they gave me plenty of time, and I came back and my arm's been feeling great and my body's been feeling great. I was ready to pitch."

But was he rusty?

"I don't know," Wacha said. "I don't know if I was jumpy a little bit, just missing down a little bit on the fastball. I wasn't able to throw strikes there."

Wacha will still be just 23 years old on Opening Day. He will spend the offseason getting back to full health before returning to the Cardinals' starting rotation.

"I'll say that I'm always hurting with these guys, and he's hurting," Matheny said. "That's not what he wants to have happen in that situation. He's feeling like he let our team down. And my response is, 'We put you in a real tough spot, but that's the faith we have in you. I think we're going to see you in spots like this, maybe not necessarily coming out of the 'pen, but we're going to see you a lot.'

Video: Matheny on Cardinals' NLCS loss

"He's got a bright, bright future. Once again, I wouldn't hesitate again to throw him in there. His stuff looked terrific."

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.

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Cardinals proud of fourth straight NLCS appearance

Club overcame multiple injuries, lack of power to reach familiar spot in October

Cardinals proud of fourth straight NLCS appearance

SAN FRANCISCO -- By their nature, long baseball seasons always end abruptly for the good teams that play their way into October, and for more than 100 years, when the final pitch has been thrown and the clubhouse disappointment is heavy, the manager gathers his players to tell them to walk away proud. That is precisely the message Mike Matheny delivered to the final gathering of the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals late Thursday, after Travis Ishikawa's ninth-inning home run had found the seats, the Giants had danced their way into the World Series and the Cardinals' season had come to a sudden end.

Yet this brief address, Matheny said, felt a little different.

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"I can't think about a group I have been more proud of, just how they go about their business, how they fought, just the resiliency, how they went about fighting in the game, picking each other up, new guys stepping up, not falling into excuses," said Matheny. "It was the way you were supposed to go about it, and they should be proud because we're proud of them."

  Date Recaps Video
Gm 1 Oct. 11 SF 3, STL 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 12 STL 5, SF 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14 SF 5, STL 4 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15 SF 6, STL 4 video
Gm 5 Oct. 16 SF 6, STL 3 video

It was the Cardinals' fourth consecutive trip to the National League Championship Series, and arguably their most unlikely. They missed their captain, catcher Yadier Molina, for seven weeks of the regular season, and nearly all of the NLCS after he strained a rib-cage muscle in Game 2. Starters Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia were compromised by injuries, and ace Adam Wainwright fought a dead arm in August and struggled in two postseason starts before finding top form Thursday. The Cardinals hit the National League's fewest regular-season home runs, while at the same time experiencing a sharp drop in hitting with runners in scoring position. A July trade that sent Allen Craig and Joe Kelly to Boston came off like a gut-punch to clubhouse chemistry. Can't-miss prospect Oscar Taveras proved a complicated fit. The Brewers pulled away with a 20-7 April, and the Pirates played tough down the stretch.

And yet, the Cardinals found themselves where they always seem to be. The team won 90 regular-season games and finished first in the NL Central, topped Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers in the NL Division Series and reached a fourth consecutive NLCS for the first time in franchise history.

"When we lost Molina [in the regular season], we basically played a game or two over .500. When we lost him the other day, I was sort of saying, 'If we could do that the rest of the way, we'd be OK,'" general manager John Mozeliak said. "Unfortunately, we didn't."

After the Cardinals evened the NLCS with a win in Game 2, the Giants swept all three games in San Francisco to take the series. They will meet the Royals in the World Series, denying Missourians a rematch of the 1985 Fall Classic.

There are reasons to believe the Cardinals could be back in contention in 2015, beginning with the fact that the team's most notable free agent is setup man Pat Neshek. Taveras and other young players like second baseman Kolten Wong and outfielder Randal Grichuk will be a year more seasoned. Wacha will get a second shot at his first full season.

Video: Wong on NLCS loss to the Giants

"I feel like the great news for us is we have a lot of young talent on this team," Mozeliak said. "Our goal is to try to build within, and I feel like we have the parts to continue to do so."

Mozeliak expected to meet with Matheny and Cardinals coaches over the weekend before beginning 2015 planning on Monday or Tuesday. So much for an offseason.

For Cardinals players, it may take longer to move on.

"It was a tough year with big-time guys going down, Yadi going down, and guys filling in those positions and battling throughout the whole year," said Wacha. "We ended up winning the division and making a pretty good run in the playoffs. I couldn't say enough about the group of guys in this clubhouse. Unbelievable players, unbelievable competitors and great teammates."

Video: Wacha on walk-off homer, loss

That message was echoed around the clubhouse.

"There's no question that everybody in this room is hurting right now," third baseman Matt Carpenter said. "But at the end of the day, when you look at what we were able to accomplish with the adversity that we had, some of the injuries, battling all the way to win the division and get us to this point, there's a lot to be proud of.

Video: Carpenter on Cardinals' NLCS loss

"Every year, there's only one team that's going to win the World Series. It's a really hard thing to do. Obviously, everybody in this room had visions of us accomplishing that and we fell a little short. But it's so hard to get to this point. There's a lot of teams that aren't here. We were the only two teams in baseball playing today, so it's really tough to make it to this point, and for us to do it in four straight seasons is quite an accomplishment."

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.

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Adams takes another ace lefty deep in the postseason

After homering off Kershaw in the NLDS, Cards slugger belts one off Bumgarner in NLCS

Adams takes another ace lefty deep in the postseason

SAN FRANCISCO -- The sold-out crowd at AT&T Park was still abuzz on Thursday after Joe Panik gave the Giants a lead in the bottom of the third inning in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series with a two-run home run.

A lead with Madison Bumgarner on the mound in a clinch game at home? It all seemed like a smooth path to a World Series date with the Royals, didn't it?

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Matt Adams, a big factor in the Cardinals' Game 4 loss because of his two fielding gaffes that led to runs, sucked the air out of the place with one mighty swing just a half-inning later.

  Date Recaps Video
Gm 1 Oct. 11 SF 3, STL 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 12 STL 5, SF 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14 SF 5, STL 4 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15 SF 6, STL 4 video
Gm 5 Oct. 16 SF 6, STL 3 video

"Being leadoff and we're down by one, I was just trying to get a pitch to get on base for the next guy," Adams said. "[Bumgarner] left a curveball over the plate, and I was able to stay through it and get the barrel to it."

Adams' home run to right field tied the game and gave the Cardinals hope. Later in the inning, Tony Cruz also homered to give St. Louis a 3-2 advantage.

That lead disappeared as the Cardinals' bullpen coughed it up late. A three-run walk-off home run by Travis Ishikawa off Michael Wacha in the ninth inning secured a 6-3 win for the Giants to end the NLCS.

But for a moment Thursday, Adams had certainly redeemed himself with one mighty swing of the bat -- and against one the premier left-handed pitchers in baseball.

Sound familiar?

Adams, who had three postseason home runs, also hit a home run off the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw in the decisive Game 4 of the NL Division Series, which propelled the Cardinals into this series against the Giants.

The home run Bumgarner allowed to Adams was just the second home run he gave up to a left-handed batter this season. Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies hit one off Bumgarner back on April 11.

"That was huge. That was a moment in the game where things could have taken a turn for the worse, but we kept fighting," said Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter. "We kept pushing and we had a lead all the way into the eighth inning, and we put the pressure on them again in the ninth.

"It just didn't work out. You have got to give credit to those guys. They did a good job, and like I said, we weren't able to catch any breaks."

Adams said the timing of the home runs in that fourth inning essentially followed a pattern that started in the regular season.

"That's what we did all year. When the opposing team would take the lead, it seemed like we'd answer right back," he said. "After that, it was a new ballgame. [Adam Wainwright] did a great job out there tonight. It was a great team effort."

Video: Adams, Waino combine on defense

Wainwright allowed two runs over seven innings, both coming on Panik's home run in the third inning. But Wainwright got on a roll thereafter, thanks in part to the rediscovery of his curveball.

The Cardinals' lead evaporated when Pat Neshek allowed a game-tying pinch-hit home run to Michael Morse in the eighth inning. Wacha, summoned from the bullpen in the ninth by Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, was unable to send the game into extra innings.

Suddenly, what once appeared to be a trip back to St. Louis for Game 6 on Saturday just simply became a trip home to end the season.

"I really wish we were going to continue to play," Adams said. "Everybody in here had a great season, and it was just a continuous team effort all year long. It's pretty cool to be a part of this club and see how guys never give up.

Video: Adams on homer, loss in NLCS

"[Matheny] told us how proud he was of us for battling all year. That's exactly what we did. A couple of guys get injured and we needed some replacements, and they stepped right in. We just kept grinding."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cruz fills in admirably for ailing Molina in Game 5

Backup catcher hits go-ahead homer before Giants rally to eliminate Cards

Cruz fills in admirably for ailing Molina in Game 5

SAN FRANCISCO -- Without a doubt, losing Yadier Molina to an oblique injury hurt the Cardinals during the National League Championship Series. The veteran catcher sat out the final three contests -- three losses on the road to the Giants.

But Tony Cruz, a backup catcher who has soaked up plenty from Molina in four years, did all he could in Thursday's 6-3 loss in Game 5 to make the Cards forget what they were missing.

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In 453 career at-bats entering the night, Cruz had hit three home runs, including just one in 2014. Then, with the score tied in the fourth inning of a win-or-go-home contest, Cruz did the unthinkable: he took Giants ace Madison Bumgarner deep.

  Date Recaps Video
Gm 1 Oct. 11 SF 3, STL 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 12 STL 5, SF 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14 SF 5, STL 4 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15 SF 6, STL 4 video
Gm 5 Oct. 16 SF 6, STL 3 video

The blast to left field gave the Cardinals a 3-2 lead that stuck until the eighth, when the Giants scored once to set the stage for a walk-off series-clinching victory in the ninth. For a while, it appeared that Cruz might lift his team to Game 6 back in St. Louis.

"It was a slider," Cruz said of the homer pitch. "I was looking for something out over the middle and I tried to put a good swing on it. Thankfully, I did."

It was Cruz's first career playoff hit as well as his first career hit off Bumgarner. He was 0-for-6 with three strikeouts against the southpaw.

After A.J. Pierzynski started Games 3 and 4 behind the dish, Cruz was not only tasked with facing one of baseball's toughest lefties, but also with flashing the signs for ace Adam Wainwright. All Wainwright did was twirl seven innings of four-hit ball.

"He was nasty. He was a warrior out there," Cruz said. "I could tell from behind the plate that he was giving it all he had. Those aces like that can do that. Those big-time pitchers, they really bear down and come at you with everything they have."

While the Cards' pitching staff is certainly most comfortable with Molina calling the shots, Cruz was the next best thing.

"We [did] a nice job without him," manager Mike Matheny said of Molina. "We want him every day. We lost him. It is all about the next man."

"We lost our catcher, somebody that's really hard to replace," Matt Carpenter added. "We lost him twice, once in the season and once during the postseason, and we were still able to get to this point."

Aaron Leibowitz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Dejected Jay appreciates season of resiliency

Outfielder one of the most reliable players on consistent Cards team

Dejected Jay appreciates season of resiliency

SAN FRANCISCO -- Shortly after the Cardinals' season-ending 6-3 loss to the Giants at AT&T Park on Thursday night, Jon Jay lay flat on his back in the visitors' clubhouse, displaying the exhaustion and disappointment of a man who played his heart out, but ultimately came up short.

A second straight trip to the Fall Classic was not in the cards this year for St. Louis, which dropped the National League Championship Series to San Francisco in five games. But it was not for a lack of inspired performance by Jay, one of nine current Cardinals who's been present for all four of the club's consecutive runs to the NLCS.

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"He was big for us all year," said first baseman Matt Adams. "Just a great ballplayer. Great all-around player, great defender, and he's a gamer. He comes to the field ready to go each day."

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Gm 1 Oct. 11 SF 3, STL 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 12 STL 5, SF 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14 SF 5, STL 4 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15 SF 6, STL 4 video
Gm 5 Oct. 16 SF 6, STL 3 video

Jay went 14-for-29 (.483) this postseason and made big plays in the outfield, including a sliding catch in left field in the eighth Thursday to rob Gregor Blanco of a hit.

Now, the 29-year-old outfielder will enter his second offseason of arbitration, and after making $3.25 million this season, Jay will certainly receive a raise. Whether general manager John Mozeliak opts to give him a long-term extension, trade him or sign him to another one-year deal remains to be seen.

One thing, however, is clear: Jay was rock solid in 2014. He batted .303 during the regular season, before shining in October. And in Jay's fifth Major League season, he was also a key team leader.

"I want to thank him," Adams said. "He did a good job taking me under his wing this year and kind of showing me the ropes. He's just a great teammate.

"Just being there," Adams said when asked for specifics. "Some situations that he went through when he was younger. He just was able to help me out all year long. It was pretty cool."

Throughout the playoffs, Jay and second baseman Kolten Wong were the most consistent hitters in St. Louis' lineup.

Video: Jay's RBI double

"We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for what they were able to do," Matt Carpenter said. "This team's got a lot of players that take a lot of pride in what they do, and those guys are a big part of it. You can't say enough about what they were able to do for us."

On Thursday, a dejected Jay was not yet ready to celebrate his personal performance. But he could appreciate being part of yet another deep postseason run with the Cards.

"This team, we dealt with so much adversity all year long," Jay said. "We kept getting hit with different things and a lot of people counted us out, and we played well the second half and we kept believing in ourselves, and we got to this point.

"Obviously, you want to go to the World Series and get a chance for a ring, but when you look back at the season, we'll know how hard we fought and how we really came together as a team and as a family. We gave it our all, but they were just better than us." 

Aaron Leibowitz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Neshek leads list of Cards' five free agents

Without many holes to fill, GM Mozeliak may opt to not re-sign any players from the group

Neshek leads list of Cards' five free agents

SAN FRANCISCO -- Once the sting of this National League Championship Series loss to San Francisco passes, the Cardinals will reflect on how much they accomplished en route to a second straight division title in 2014. But they won't just be looking back. They'll also be looking ahead.

One hundred and seventy-one days sit between the 6-3 loss in Game 5 and Opening Day 2015, and the Cardinals will use those months to construct a club that they hope can get them back into October for a fifth straight year.

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"We'll give it a few days, probably have a meeting over the weekend with the staff, and then Monday or Tuesday, start rolling up the sleeves and start thinking about '15," general manager John Mozeliak said from the a quiet visiting clubhouse on Thursday night.

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Gm 1 Oct. 11 SF 3, STL 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 12 STL 5, SF 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14 SF 5, STL 4 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15 SF 6, STL 4 video
Gm 5 Oct. 16 SF 6, STL 3 video

While Mozeliak won't let the winter pass without trying to fill some holes, the Cardinals are fortunate in that they won't have many of them. Just three players on their postseason roster (Pat Neshek, A.J. Pierzynski and Mark Ellis) are eligible for free agency, and only Neshek played a prominent role for this team. Jason Motte and Justin Masterson round out the Cardinals' free-agent class.

The Cardinals won't make any qualifying offers, and it's likely that they won't retain any of those five free agents. Ellis and Pierzynski are nearing -- or perhaps at? -- the end of their careers. The non-waiver Trade Deadline deal that brought in Masterson proved to be a bust for the Cardinals. Motte, a lifetime Cardinal, is at a crossroads after struggling in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. And Neshek, with a stupendous season, likely priced himself out of the Cardinals' bullpen plans.

If Neshek does move on, it will mean that a season in which he parlayed a Minor League deal into an All-Star setup role will be largely remembered for one of the few mistakes he made. Michael Morse clobbered a flat slider from Neshek in the eighth on Thursday to tie the game.

"He's had a terrific season," manager Mike Matheny said. "I don't need to tell anybody in this room that. He's been great. I didn't see the pitch, but their guy put a nice swing on it."

The Cardinals' bullpen will likely see some retooling this offseason, as well as the bench. The Cardinals were again thin on right-handed reserves, and that was exposed at times this postseason.

The rotation will return all its core members -- Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, John Lackey, Michael Wacha and Shelby Miller -- along with others like Marco Gonzales and Carlos Martinez fighting for a potential fit. Around the diamond, there appear few gaps to fill, too.

With Kolten Wong's breakout postseason, there seems little need for changing the starting four in the infield. Matt Holliday will maintain his place in left, and Jon Jay's bounceback season makes it likely that the Cardinals tender him a contract in his second year of arbitration eligibility. Right field remains unsettled, but the options are aplenty with Oscar Taveras, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty and Peter Bourjos in the mix.

Video: Wong bursts onto playoff stage

"We have a lot of young, good players on this team that step up whenever the lights come on," Wacha said. "Hopefully, next year we can put together another good run and another good season."

The Cardinals will have six players eligible for arbitration, including first-timers Lynn, Shane Robinson and Tony Cruz, as well as second-timers Jay, Daniel Descalso and Bourjos. Robinson and Descalso, neither of whom had much playing time this season, are the most likely of that half-dozen to be non-tendered.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

NLCS can't get any better -- until it does

Cardinals show scrappiness late, but in the end, Giants just have more

NLCS can't get any better -- until it does

SAN FRANCISCO -- Travis Ishikawa rounded the bases joyously, leaping and screaming, this most improbable story of the San Francisco Giants getting another stunning chapter.

Just when you think baseball's postseason can't possibly deliver again, it does, incredibly.

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  Date Recaps Video
Gm 1 Oct. 11 SF 3, STL 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 12 STL 5, SF 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14 SF 5, STL 4 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15 SF 6, STL 4 video
Gm 5 Oct. 16 SF 6, STL 3 video
Remember one thing about this sport. It can't get any better than this. It just can't. Don't bother trying to get your mind around it, at least not all of it. Simply sit back and enjoy the ride.

Here goes.

Ishikawa won the National League pennant for the Giants on Thursday night. He's the perfect guy to do it because he reflects what these Giants are about in terms of resilience and hard work and confidence. Ishikawa did it by smoking a fastball over the right-field wall with two teammates on base and the game tied in the bottom of the ninth inning.

That quickly, the NL Championship Series ended with the Giants beating the Cardinals, 6-3, and winning the series, 4-1.

This was a string of close games, a series in which two good baseball teams fought like champions, punching and counter-punching.

The Cards tried furiously to avoid elimination and force the series back to their home ballpark. And they were close enough to see it happening, taking a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning.

Their ace, Adam Wainwright, did exactly what they hoped he would, allowing two earned runs in seven innings. But these Giants are sprinkled with magic dust. Also talent and toughness and smarts.

Video: Ishikawa's walk-off homer

Anyway, Cardinals reliever Pat Neshek, who hadn't allowed a baserunner in three previous appearances in this NLCS, let a pitch catch too much of the plate as he was trying to protect that one-run lead in the bottom of the eighth.

And Michael Morse -- a spiritual leader of the Giants early in the season, an injured player down the stretch -- came off the bench to hit a towering game-tying home run down the left-field line.

Statcast: Morse's tying homer

At that point, this series seemed headed toward an inexorable conclusion. An inning later, Cards manager Mike Matheny made an odd decision in calling on right-hander Michael Wacha, who hadn't pitched in 20 days.

Wacha retired just one of the four hitters he faced, and it ended with Ishikawa launching a towering home run to right.

One of the narratives of this series was that the Giants had to find different ways to score runs because they'd hit only two home runs this entire postseason.

And then this. The game that won them their 21st pennant -- second most in all of baseball, behind only the 40 of the Yankees -- they rediscovered their power.

Rookie second baseman Joe Panik homered in the third inning. And Morse and Ishikawa delivered in the late innings.

So now the Giants take another step in attempting to win their third World Series in five seasons, this against the Kansas City Royals, a team that is 8-0 in this postseason, a team with the best defense and best bullpen on the planet.

This pennant is an especially sweet one for the Giants. At times, they did a good imitation of baseball's best teams. At other times, they didn't look like a team capable of pushing into October.

They lost one of their aces, Matt Cain, to ankle surgery, and along the way a long list of others missed various amounts of time.

Leadoff man Angel Pagan played his last game in mid-September. He'd been the guy that made San Francisco's offense go. The Giants were 57-39 with Pagan on the field and 31-35 without him.

With Morse also injured, Giants manager Bruce Bochy was scrambling to find offense. That's when he gave Ishikawa, a first baseman, three starts in left field late in the season.

That tuned Ishikawa up for the postseason, and now he will be part of the lore of this great franchise. His home run shook AT&T Park to its bones. Ishikawa was mobbed by teammates at home plate, and after that, a touching scene played out, a scene that speaks volumes about San Francisco as a baseball town.

Those fans, more than 40,000 of 'em, stood and screamed and waved orange towels. And then they simply stayed around for at least a half-hour after the game. There were ovations, one after another, as various players stepped onto the stage at second base for the trophy presentation.

Perhaps the loudest cheer was for Bochy, the guy known around the game for his honesty and decency and strategic genius.

Even as players went down, even as the Giants struggled, they believed. They've always believed. They have nine players who've been part of the three championship teams, and amid all that success, a confidence has grown.

Even when they limped along late in the season, they were absolutely convinced they were going to run down the Dodgers in the NL West. That didn't happen, but the Giants still ended up back in the same place, back in the World Series.

On the other side of the field, Matheny remained in the visitors' dugout for several minutes once the game ended. He took in the Giants' celebration, but that's not why he was there. At some point, Matheny caught Bochy's eye.

And that's when Matheny did what he'd been hoping to do. He tipped his hat to the Giants' skipper, a touching gesture.

In that way, Matheny was congratulating the winner. Later, he would say he was proud of his guys, too, acknowledging that sometimes teams are unable to write the ending they'd like to write.

Like the Giants, Matheny's Cardinals were a team that had trouble making the pieces fit in a rollercoaster of a season. Like the Giants, the Cardinals kept pushing and fighting and clawing.

They did themselves proud on a bunch of different levels. In a magical postseason, the Giants just had a bit more.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cardinals-Giants, NLCS Game 5: Did you know?

Cardinals-Giants, NLCS Game 5: Did you know?

For the second time in three games in the National League Championship Series, San Francisco walked off with a win over St. Louis. This time, Travis Ishikawa's three-run home run in the ninth inning propelled the Giants to a 6-3 win in Game 5 on Thursday night and a World Series matchup against the Royals.

Here's what you need to know about the Giants' win:

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• The Giants improved to 7-0 in series when they hold a 3-1 advantage. They have closed out the series in five games on six occasions.

  Date Recaps Video
Gm 1 Oct. 11 SF 3, STL 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 12 STL 5, SF 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14 SF 5, STL 4 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15 SF 6, STL 4 video
Gm 5 Oct. 16 SF 6, STL 3 video

• For the fifth time in franchise history, St. Louis didn't come back from a 3-1 hole. The Cards have been ousted in Game 5 four times.

• The Giants have won three of the last five NL titles. Each of the last two times, they won the World Series.

• Ishikawa's walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning was the first one to end an NLCS and the fourth one to send a team to the World Series.

It was the ninth walk-off homer to finish any playoff series and the first of its kind since 2006.

• Before Ishikawa's hit, the last NLCS to end with a walk-off was in 2002, when the Giants beat St. Louis -- also in Game 5. That night, it was Kenny Lofton's single to right field that lifted San Francisco into the World Series.

• Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha hadn't pitched since Sept. 26 before serving up Ishikawa's walk-off homer. He became the first pitcher since Jose Mijares in the 2009 American League Division Series to give up a walk-off homer after having at least 20 days of rest.

Video: Must C: Clutch

Michael Morse's eighth-inning pinch-hit home run was the fifth one in Giants postseason history. It was the first one since J.T. Snow's ninth-inning shot off Armando Benitez in the 2000 NL Division Series.

• Morse's home run was the 11th pinch-hit home run all time that tied a playoff game. St. Louis' Oscar Taveras did it against the Giants during Sunday's Game 2.

• Cardinals right-hander Pat Neshek had served up just two home runs to right-handed-hitters in the regular season, spanning 156 plate appearances. In the postseason, he gave up two (Morse and the Dodgers' Matt Kemp) in just 27 plate appearances.

• The Giants went 242 plate appearances without a home run before launching three homers during Game 5. Joe Panik hit a two-run homer in the third.

Madison Bumgarner's eight-inning, three-run performance in Game 5 marked his fifth straight postseason start with at least seven innings pitched and three or fewer earned runs allowed. Bumgarner, who was named the NLCS MVP, is the first pitcher since Randy Johnson in 2001 with such a streak.

• Video: Bumgarner on becoming NLCS MVP

• Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt earned the Game 5 win despite recording just one out and throwing only three pitches. Only five other pitchers have won a postseason game while throwing fewer pitches.

• With his fourth-inning double to left field, the Giants' Pablo Sandoval reached base for his 23rd consecutive postseason game. That tied Lance Berkman for the sixth-longest streak all time.

• Likewise, Jon Jay set the Cardinals' postseason record by reaching in 16 straight games after singling in the first inning.

Video: Jay's RBI double

Jay had set a Major League record by going 92 consecutive postseason at-bats without an extra-base hit. That streak ended with Jay's third-inning double.

• Giants closer Santiago Casilla's two-thirds of an inning was his shortest outing since Aug. 15, when he gave up a run in the 10th inning to Philadelphia.

Matthew DeFranks is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Shaky sixth sinks Cardinals into 3-1 NLCS hole

Defensive miscues, Miller's short start help surrender early lead

Shaky sixth sinks Cardinals into 3-1 NLCS hole

SAN FRANCISCO -- Few teams played better defense than the Cardinals this season, yet it is a continuum of defensive mishaps by the club through the first four games of this National League Championship Series that has the defending NL champs on the precipice of having to hand over their crown.

Again undone by plays not made and hampered by a short Shelby Miller start and a generous 'pen, the Cardinals surrendered a three-run lead to the Giants, who scored five unanswered runs to steal a 6-4 Game 4 win on Wednesday night. The victory, which came in a packed AT&T Park, moves San Francisco a win away from knocking the Cardinals out of the NLCS for the second time in three years.

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"It's the postseason. Everything is magnified," manager Mike Matheny said. "Free bases and extra outs, those hurt in a series like this, with two, at least I believe, evenly matched and similar teams that capitalize on free bases and extra outs."

  Date Recaps Video
Gm 1 Oct. 11 SF 3, STL 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 12 STL 5, SF 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14 SF 5, STL 4 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15 SF 6, STL 4 video
Gm 5 Oct. 16 SF 6, STL 3 video

The Cardinals held that same 3-1 NLCS lead over the Giants in 2012, only to watch the Giants become the fifth NL team in history to erase it. San Francisco outscored the Cardinals 20-1 over those final three games.

"It would be nice to repay the favor," Kolten Wong said.

"That's something we have in the back of our heads," Giants first baseman Brandon Belt said from the other clubhouse. "If we don't come out and play good baseball, they're going to take advantage of that, and they can definitely get back in the series."

This will be the fifth 3-1 hole the franchise has faced in postseason history, and none of the previous four made it to a Game 7. With an all-Missouri World Series at stake, the Cardinals must win behind Adam Wainwright in San Francisco, where the Cardinals have lost their last five NLCS games and are now 3-9 overall.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Despite knocking postseason stalwart Ryan Vogelsong out after three innings, the Cardinals could not get shutdown innings from their own starter. Miller exited in the fourth, with the Cardinals clinging to a one-run lead. The first three relievers out of the 'pen walked four of the first seven batters they faced, and that fourth walk, issued by Marco Gonzales, would jump-start the Giants' three-run sixth.

San Francisco tied the game as Juan Perez slid home on a poor throw by first baseman Matt Adams, who was pulled in as part of the Cardinals' drawn-in infield with two on and one out. One play later, Adams further compounded the inning by not looking Brandon Crawford back to third before trying to complete an inning-ending double play.

"I touched first base, and I should have checked [the runner]," said a soft-spoken Adams afterward. "It just didn't happen. That's what good teams do. They capitalize on mistakes."

Buster Posey's RBI single would add an insurance run, more than enough for the Giants, who got six shutout innings from the bullpen. The Cardinals, who have yet to take a lead into the seventh inning this postseason, brought the potential tying run to the plate in each of the final three frames but had no success pulling closer on the scoreboard.

Mistakes in the field by the Cardinals have contributed to all three NLCS losses, part of the reason that the Giants have been able to score eight of their 18 runs without the benefit of a hit. San Francisco's first run on Wednesday was also assisted by the St. Louis defense, as Jon Jay had a ball glance off his glove in center.

"They're just a good team. They're hot right now," Gonzales said. "We're trying to keep up with them. You just have to roll with the punches and punch back. Unfortunately, we couldn't do that."

THE MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

Twin-killing rally killers: Twenty-one pitches into his start, Vogelsong had already allowed one run and was dealing with two more runners on the bases while Jhonny Peralta batted with one out. For a Cardinals team that had scored just eight of its 27 postseason runs before the seventh, this was its chance for a breakout inning.

But Vogelsong stalled it by getting Peralta to ground into a double play. Peralta would hit into another to snuff out momentum in the third. The Cardinals may have scored as many runs off Vogelsong on Wednesday (four) as he had allowed in his previous five postseason starts, but there was opportunity for more. Peralta fell to 5-for-27 with one extra-base hit and one RBI this month.

"We had a couple opportunities where we had some pressure put on them," Matheny said. "But they made the plays when they needed to, and we couldn't get that big hit after early [on.]"

Off the glove: While it was right field that gave defenders fits in Game 3, center field proved to be the issue for both clubs in Game 4. Jay helped the Giants to a first-inning run when he allowed Gregor Blanco's fly ball to nick off his glove for a leadoff double. Though Blanco was credited with a hit, the play was one Jay should have made.

A hit from Joe Panik moved Blanco up, and a Posey sacrifice fly pushed him home. It was the first of three RBIs for the Giants catcher.

"It's definitely frustrating seeing them score runs, no matter if it's the home run or what they've been doing," Wong said. "It's been tough. Eventually, something has to come our way, I think."

Oddly enough, Blanco was involved in almost the exact same play an inning later when a ball hit off his glove in center for a Wong leadoff double.

Aloha means goodbye: Wong's postseason coming-out party continued in Game 4, as he set an NL rookie second baseman record with his sixth and seventh extra-base hits of the postseason. Wong doubled and scored in the second before blasting his third home run in six games to build the Cardinals' lead to 4-1 in the third.

With the seven extra-base hits, Wong ties Tom Herr (1985) for the most by a Cardinals second baseman in a single postseason. He also tied Shane Victorino (2009) for most home runs in a postseason by a Hawaiian-born player.

Adams' mental mistake: Only one NL first baseman (Adrian Gonzalez) was credited with more defensive runs saved this season than Adams. Yet, Adams helped the Giants to three in Game 4. After an off-target throw home allowed the Giants to tie the game, Adams made a splendid pick on Panik's grounder down the line. His momentum took him to first for the second out of the inning, but instead of staring Crawford back at third, Adams threw errantly to Peralta, trying to get the runner headed to second.

His throw was too far off the mark for any play, and Crawford, who hadn't been running on contact, scored the go-ahead run.

"Get the out and then be ready to throw home," Matheny said. "That's the play."

No redemption found: Adams had a chance to atone for his pair of sixth-inning blunders when he came to the plate in the seventh with two on, two out and the Cardinals trailing by two. Giants manager Bruce Bochy summoned lefty reliever Javier Lopez for the matchup, and Adams worked into a 3-0 count. After a called strike and a foul ball, Adams grounded out weakly.

"I just knew I had to keep the ball down, and I had a decent chance of getting a ground ball," Lopez said. "I was fortunate to get one to Panik to get out of the inning."

SILVER LININGS

Matt Holliday: Just 1-for-13 through the first three NLCS games, Holliday produced his fifth career postseason three-hit game on Wednesday. His leadoff double in the third led to a run. His 66 career postseason hits rank fifth-most among all active players. Only three (Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina and David Ortiz) have more three-hit performances in the postseason than the Cardinals' left fielder.

KEY MANAGERIAL DECISION

It took 30 pitches for Miller to get through the third, an inning in which the Giants scored twice. But Matheny stuck with his starter not only through that inning but also through three batters in the fourth. Asked why he wasn't quicker to go to his bullpen, Matheny explained that he felt he had no better right-handed option there to combat the trouble that Miller was in while facing the right-handed-heavy part of the Giants' order.

Seth Maness, Carlos Martinez, Pat Neshek and Trevor Rosenthal have all been earmarked for later-game roles. Matheny said he was hesitant to go to the other available right-hander, Michael Wacha, because that would have left him with no safety net should a long reliever have been needed later.

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS

• Wong became the 18th player with at least three homers, three doubles and one triple in one postseason. Four of those 18 (Wong, 2014; Holliday, 2013; David Freese, 2011; Larry Walker, 2004) are Cardinals.

• With doubles by Matt Carpenter, Wong and Holliday, the Cardinals became the first team to start a postseason game with leadoff doubles in three straight innings.

• The Cardinals have six home runs from their rookies this postseason, matching the Major League record set by the Rays in 2008.

• Carpenter collected his eighth extra-base hit of the postseason in Game 4, tying him with Rickey Henderson (1989), Lenny Dykstra (1993) and Derek Jeter (2009) for the most in a single postseason by a leadoff hitter.

NEXT GAME

Playing the final NLCS game at AT&T Park, the Cardinals and Giants will meet in Game 5 on Thursday (7 p.m. CT on FOX Sports 1). It will feature a pitching rematch between aces Wainwright and Madison Bumgarner, who met in the NLCS opener.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Wong making a name for himself this postseason

All seven of Cardinals second baseman's hits have gone for extra bases

Wong making a name for himself this postseason

SAN FRANCISCO -- That short and compact swing that Kolten Wong keeps trying to replicate continues to produce big things for the Cardinals during this postseason.

The Cardinals' second baseman, small in stature but large on results, drilled two more extra-base hits in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series on Wednesday against the Giants, including his second home run of the series. It wasn't enough, however, as the Giants scored three runs in the decisive sixth inning, sending the Cardinals to a 6-4 loss and a 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven series, with Game 5 set for Thursday at 7:07 p.m. CT at AT&T Park.

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That the Cardinals find themselves in a do-or-die game isn't due to a lack of effort on Wong's part, as he raised his average in this series to .357.

  Date Recaps Video
Gm 1 Oct. 11 SF 3, STL 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 12 STL 5, SF 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14 SF 5, STL 4 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15 SF 6, STL 4 video
Gm 5 Oct. 16 SF 6, STL 3 video

Better still, he has seven hits in the postseason, all of which have gone for extra bases -- three doubles, one triple and three home runs.

Wong has now tied Shane Victorino for the most homers in a single postseason by a Hawaiian-born player.

Yes, all from a middle infielder who is generously listed at 5-foot-9.

"It's kind of crazy to think I don't have a single," Wong said.

It's certainly been a stunning change of roles for Wong, who a year ago this month was stinging from his baserunning gaffe in Game 4 of the World Series when he was picked off first base to end a 4-2 loss to the Red Sox.

Today, he's nearly carrying the Cardinals' offense on his not-so-bulky shoulders.

"I'm driving the ball to all parts of the field," Wong said.

The Cardinals are hitting .242 as a team in the first four games of this series and have 12 RBIs -- Wong has four of them. He had a double to start the second inning off Giants pitcher Ryan Vogelsong and scored the second run of the game as A.J. Pierzynski singled him in for a 2-1 lead.

Video: Wong reaches with double

Then in the third inning with Vogelsong reeling, Wong jumped on a changeup and knocked it over the fence in right field for a 4-1 lead.

"I think we all kind of had the right approach against him," Wong said of Vogelsong. "He's one of those seasoned veterans who knows how to pitch, he knows how to make you chase pitches, so if you kind of stick to your plan of basically making him throw the ball down the middle, most of the time it'll work. But he's a good pitcher and I think our plan kind of worked."

Wong was hitless in his final two at-bats of the game, as the Cardinals, after scoring four runs over the first three innings, didn't score again.

"My first two at-bats, I felt great," said Wong, who also made a nice diving stop at second base. "Then I sort of lost my approach."

Video: Wong's diving stop

He wasn't the only one, as the Cardinals had four hits over the final six innings of the game. That the Cardinals bounced into three doubles plays certainly didn't help matters.

"[We] had a couple of opportunities where we had some pressure on them, but they made the plays when they needed to and we couldn't get that big hit," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny.

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Yadi's absence not what's ailing Cardinals

Club's struggles against Giants have been due to supbar defense, ineffective pitching

Yadi's absence not what's ailing Cardinals

SAN FRANCISCO -- The St. Louis Cardinals cannot possibly be the same team without the services of catcher Yadier Molina. And yet, in the exalted realm of October baseball, this cannot be an all-purpose excuse.

In fact, the Cardinals are 0-2 in the National League Championship Series games in which Molina has been absent since he sustained a left oblique strain. But the way the Cardinals lost these two games did not point to Molina's absence as the chief culprit.

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The San Francisco Giants are probably the chief culprit, but there were some self-inflicted wounds by the St. Louis club.

The Cardinals lost Tuesday in the 10th inning of Game 3 when reliever Randy Choate made an errant throw to first base on a sacrifice bunt. On Wednesday night in Game 4, the Cardinals grabbed an early 4-1 lead at AT&T Park, but starter Shelby Miller could not hold the Giants. Later, defensive lapses contributed to the Giants winning the game, 6-4.

  Date Recaps Video
Gm 1 Oct. 11 SF 3, STL 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 12 STL 5, SF 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14 SF 5, STL 4 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15 SF 6, STL 4 video
Gm 5 Oct. 16 SF 6, STL 3 video

The Giants present serious problems for any postseason opponent. They are 7-0 in postseason series with Bruce Bochy as their manager. With World Series championships in 2010 and '12, Bochy has a 29-11 postseason record as San Francisco's manager.

The Cardinals are the only Major League team to appear in a League Championship Series the last four years in a row. But this isn't like playing the Dodgers anymore. The Giants have more game than names on their roster. They are good enough that they remind the Cardinals of themselves on their good days.

"That's a very fair statement," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "I see a team that takes a lot of pride in trying to do the little things right and capitalizing and manufacturing and takes pride in the pitching.

"And that's just kind of playing itself out through this series. I don't think anybody's been surprised or let down. It's been a very hard-fought series so far, and I imagine it's going to be the same way all the way through."

So when the pitching isn't sharp and the defense isn't air-tight, you don't win in the postseason against a team with both poise and a record of October success. Miller, handed the early lead, didn't finish the fourth.

"Walks, you play a team like this and it's not just Shelby, you go through our pitching as a whole," Matheny said. "We give free bases and we give extra outs, non-plays. It's going to come back and it's going to bite you when we're in a close series with a team that's playing well and doing things fundamentally right. Those will, and they did, cost us."

The Giants scored twice in the pivotal sixth inning on grounders to first baseman Matt Adams. On the first, Adams' throw to the plate was both tardy and inaccurate. On the second, Adams stepped on first for an out, then attempted to get an out at second, even though the force was off after the out at first. His throw to second was late, but meanwhile, the runner at third, who had held up when Adams first fielded the ball, broke for home with the throw to second and scored.

Video: Adams on troublesome sixth inning

"The second one, I should have just touched first and checked home," Adams said.

"Yeah, it's the right play by touching the base," Matheny said. "He's just got to check home at that point. And the runner wasn't going. We eat the ball, and we've got a lot of different options we can go to at that point.

"But you know, they took off once he released the ball to second base. That's not really the play we want."

Maybe the argument could be made that all of the Cardinals' pitchers would have felt more comfortable with Molina catching. But based on the way this game went, that feels more like a cheap rationalization, rather than a good, solid reason.

The Cardinals simply have to play better than this to beat the Giants. And at this point, they would have to do this in three straight games to prevail in this series. In Game 5 on Thursday, the Giants will go with their ace, Madison Bumgarner. The Redbirds will counter with their ace, Adam Wainwright, who has been ineffective in two starts during this postseason.

"Nobody else we'd rather have on the mound," said Matheny. "We don't look at it in series. We haven't done that all season. We look at it as a game. They are letting us play again tomorrow. We can control tomorrow, and Adam Wainwright is going to set the tone for us."

Video: Wong on team's faith in Wainwright

That tone had better include excellent pitching and solid defense, otherwise the Giants won't be beaten. Will the Game 5 Cardinals include an appearance by Molina? As of Wednesday, he could throw and catch with minimal pain, but there was pain when he attempted to swing a bat.

Had the Cardinals tied this game in the ninth, Matheny indicated that Molina would have entered the game to catch. Even if Molina can do spot duty in Game 5, this one might be on the other 24 guys to play like the St. Louis Cardinals are supposed to play.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Defensive lapses are holding Cardinals back in NLCS

Eight of Giants' 18 runs in series have come without a hit

Defensive lapses are holding Cardinals back in NLCS

SAN FRANCISCO -- In a low voice to fit a pin-drop-quiet Cardinals clubhouse, Matt Adams made no excuses for two critical misplays. He should have made a better throw home. Adams said he should have checked a runner at third base. He should not have let Game 4 of this National League Championship Series, which is increasingly being defined by defensive lapses uncharacteristic of the Cards, slip from his grasp.

"We go out ready to play," Adams said after a 6-4 loss Wednesday night. "And things happen. You have to make the plays."

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Adams had two opportunities to make a play during a sixth inning that began with the Cardinals holding a 4-3 lead, but saw rookie left-hander Marco Gonzales quickly find trouble. A walk, a hit and a sacrifice bunt gave the Giants runners at second and third with one out, setting up Adams' two critical mistakes:

1. With Juan Perez the runner at third, Giants leadoff man Gregor Blanco hit a bouncer toward Adams, who charged to field the ball before bouncing a soft throw home to catcher Tony Cruz. Perez scored the tying run.

Video: Blanco plates game-tying run

2. With Brandon Crawford now the runner at third after Blanco was safe at first, Joe Panik hit a much sharper ground ball that Adams managed to pick cleanly almost on top of first base. Crawford froze in his tracks as Adams stepped on the bag, but when Adams opted to air an immediate throw to second, Crawford broke home. The wide throw pulled shortstop Jhonny Peralta off the bag, allowing Blanco to reach safely while Crawford scored the go-ahead run.

Video: Panik's go-ahead groundout

Adams' initial explanation was brief.

"The play at home -- fast runner right there, and I was going in on the ball and threw on the run," he said. "I should have made the throw.

"The second one, I should have just touched first and checked home."

  Date Recaps Video
Gm 1 Oct. 11 SF 3, STL 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 12 STL 5, SF 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14 SF 5, STL 4 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15 SF 6, STL 4 video
Gm 5 Oct. 16 SF 6, STL 3 video

The way Cards manager Mike Matheny saw it, Adams made the right play by stepping on first base, because the grounder had taken him to that spot. The next step, Matheny said, should have been checking the runner at third.

But Adams never did so.

Asked why, Adams said, "It just didn't happen."

Further questioning followed, during which Adams insisted he was mentally prepared to be peppered with ground balls by a left-handed-heavy Giants lineup, and that he had correctly run through the various scenarios in his mind ahead of each Gonzales pitch. Adams brushed aside the notion that his errant throw on the Blanco grounder did not affect his reaction to Panik's.

Rather, Adams said he simply did not execute, and the Giants made him pay. When Buster Posey followed Panik's grounder with an RBI single, San Francisco had its winning margin.

"That's what good teams do," Adams said. "They capitalize on mistakes."

The unfortunate thing for Adams was that he was a solid defensive player during the regular season, tying for second among Major League first baseman with eight defensive runs saved, and ranking just above the median in UZR/150, a variant of ultimate zone rating that assigns value to a player's defense at his position.

"He's one of the best that I've seen," said Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong. "For him to make a few mistakes here and there, I think it evens out the [positive] things he did for us in the season. This game is so tough to play. The ball will find you no matter what, and to be honest, it wasn't bad plays on his part. He made some amazing stops and he basically threw off-balance."

The Cardinals as a whole were reliable defensively during the regular season, trailing only the Reds in defensive runs saved. But Adams' missteps were not the first instance in Game 4, or in the series, of the Cards' typically stout defense letting them down.

In the first inning, after Adams had spotted St. Louis a 1-0 lead with an RBI single, Blanco led off with a deep drive to center field, where Jon Jay appeared to have a play. But the baseball ticked off his glove for what was ruled a double, and two batters later Posey tied the game with an RBI single.

Video: Jay can't corral fly ball

"I just wasn't able to hang on," Jay said. "If it hits off my glove, I expect to make the play."

A day earlier in Game 3, an emotional Randy Choate found himself surrounded at his locker after the reliever committed a game-ending error on a bunt play in the bottom of the 10th inning.

In Game 1 in St. Louis, a pair of lapses burned the Cardinals in a 3-0 loss to Madison Bumgarner. Third baseman Matt Carpenter's error in the first inning spotted San Francisco one run, and second baseman Kolten Wong's bobble of a would-be double play ball two innings later extended a rally for Brandon Belt's sacrifice fly.

Add up those non-plays, and the Giants are scoring enough to win in this series even when they're not hitting. Eight of San Francisco's 18 runs in the NLCS have scored without the benefit of a hit.

"Especially in the playoffs, when you make mistakes, it's going to cost you," Jay said. "We've seen that on our side when we've been able to take advantage of stuff, too. We're obviously down now, but we're still in it."

The Giants, meanwhile, are within one victory of the World Series.

"They have so many good guys defensively," said San Francisco's Perez of the Cards' lapses. "You don't expect so many mistakes. They've just happened a few times now. We aren't really expecting them."

Said Panik: "It's kind of fitting of how our postseason's been. It might not be the prettiest way of scoring runs, but it's how our postseason has been so far."

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.

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Miller's short start puts Cardinals in a bind

Starter staked to lead but runs into trouble early against Giants

Miller's short start puts Cardinals in a bind

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Cardinals have spent very little time leading during the early innings this postseason, so when they established a three-run advantage in the third inning on Wednesday, it felt like a golden opportunity.

But starter Shelby Miller let the Giants right back into Game 4 of the National League Championship Series at AT&T Park and San Francisco completed its comeback in the sixth to win, 6-4, and put St. Louis one loss away from the offseason.

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Miller, making his second career playoff start, allowed three runs in 3 2/3 innings in his shortest outing since June 24. He induced a double play to hold the Giants to one run in the first, but Buster Posey and Hunter Pence hit two-out RBI singles in the third to put a damper on Miller's night.

  Date Recaps Video
Gm 1 Oct. 11 SF 3, STL 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 12 STL 5, SF 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14 SF 5, STL 4 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15 SF 6, STL 4 video
Gm 5 Oct. 16 SF 6, STL 3 video
 

"I just started to throw some balls up over the middle of the plate in the third and gave up a couple runs and let them back in the game," Miller said. "It's not my job to do that. We definitely had a lot of momentum, went up 4-1, and then you give up two runs and they're right back in the ballgame. That's on me."

Manager Mike Matheny let Miller finish the third and then take an at-bat -- a strikeout -- in the top of the fourth before calling on lefty Randy Choate to relieve him with two outs in the bottom half. Though Miller was not at his sharpest, Matheny defended his decision to keep the right-hander on the mound past the third inning.

"He gets into trouble [in the third], but when he gets into trouble, he's in the right-handed part of their lineup," Matheny said. "What right-hander are we going to go to that we're going to put in there and then let him stay in there and hit? Is there anyone that we want to go to at that point? The answer is, we like his stuff as much as anybody right now. Then, once we do get around to the lefty, Randy comes in.

"Letting him hit," Matheny added, "comes down to whether we want to burn up one of our guys on the bench with one out and nobody on base."

Video: Matheny on Miller's outing

The Giants were in attack mode against Miller from the outset, and Miller responded by utilizing his breaking stuff. While he admitted he may have been overthrowing a bit, he said he felt fine mechanically but simply let the third inning slip away.

"They weren't even trying to take a pitch," Miller said. "I started throwing some breaking balls early on and it started working out good. Just that third inning, a little bloop into center field [by Joaquin Arias] and then it kind of goes downhill from there. It's my fault to let them back in the game."

"I thought he was good," said catcher A.J. Pierzynski. "He threw the ball well, and unfortunately we didn't get it done. I thought his stuff was fine, the ball was coming out of his hand well. It just didn't work out."

Miller departed with St. Louis leading, 4-3, a score that held up for two more innings thanks to strong bullpen work by Choate and Carlos Martinez. But Marco Gonzales faltered in the sixth, and the Cardinals' late-inning magic was nowhere to be found.

"They've got a great team, there's no doubt about that," Miller said. "A lot of tough guys in the lineup, a lot of power, a lot of guys who can get on base, and when they do get on base they know exactly how to play baseball to get 'em right back in.

"We know that, we realize that, but at the same time, I failed to keep our team ahead giving up those two runs. Let them have the momentum a little bit right there, and they played good baseball from then. Tough loss."

Aaron Leibowitz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cards' early-inning momentum halted by double plays

Peralta's rally-killers plus Adams' miscues open door for Giants

Cards' early-inning momentum halted by double plays

SAN FRANCISCO -- Given the way this October has gone so far for the Cardinals, their four-run output in the first three innings against the Giants on Wednesday night at AT&T Park felt like an offensive explosion. In eight prior playoff games, St. Louis had scored just three total runs during the first three frames.

But a three-run advantage proved insufficient in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, as San Francisco mounted a comeback and won, 6-4, to take a 3-1 series lead.

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While it's difficult to gripe about the Cardinals' early-inning performance, they certainly could have had more against Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong.

  Date Recaps Video
Gm 1 Oct. 11 SF 3, STL 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 12 STL 5, SF 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14 SF 5, STL 4 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15 SF 6, STL 4 video
Gm 5 Oct. 16 SF 6, STL 3 video

In hindsight, two double plays off the bat of Jhonny Peralta in the first and third frames are tough to swallow.

"We had some real good at-bats early that set the tone for us," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. "Those were innings where we were really hoping to [break open], especially that first one. Double plays always hurt."

In the first, Matt Adams smacked an RBI single with one out to open the scoring. But with men on first and second, Peralta bounced into a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning.

The Cards left two more on base in the second, and then in the third, Vogelsong induced another 5-4-3 DP from Peralta with runners at the corners and nobody out. A run scored on the play, but the bases were empty when the next batter, Kolten Wong, hit a homer.

Video: Panda turns two from his knees

"I think we all kind of had the right approach against him," Wong said of Vogelsong. "He's one of those seasoned veterans who knows how to pitch, he knows how to make you chase pitches, so if you kind of stick to your plan of basically making him throw the ball down the middle, most of the time it'll work."

That approach helped the Cards chase Vogelsong after three innings, but San Francisco turned a third double play in the fifth. One inning later, a pair of defensive mistakes by Adams cost St. Louis the game.

Video: Adams on troublesome sixth inning

"That's what good teams do," Adams said. "They capitalize on mistakes."

To set the stage for their comeback, the Giants needed to keep the floodgates closed in the early innings.

"If we don't play the small game the right way," said Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval, "we don't win."

Aaron Leibowitz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Five things we learned from Game 4 of the NLCS

Five things we learned from Game 4 of the NLCS

SAN FRANCISCO -- They did it again, these mystifying, amazing, convention-defying Giants. They have the Cardinals on the brink of elimination with an offense seemingly comprised of smoke, mirrors and Muhammad Ali's old act. They float like butterflies and sting like bees.

The Giants' 6-4 verdict in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series for a 3-1 lead was baffling on the face of it. San Francisco had one extra-base hit -- Gregor Blanco's leadoff double in the first off the glove of center fielder Jon Jay -- when it overcame a one-run deficit with three sixth-inning runs. Another double would come from Brandon Crawford in the seventh. The Cards' defense caved, but that's what can happen when pressure is applied.

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  Date Recaps Video
Gm 1 Oct. 11 SF 3, STL 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 12 STL 5, SF 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14 SF 5, STL 4 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15 SF 6, STL 4 video
Gm 5 Oct. 16 SF 6, STL 3 video

Small ball is unpopular in some quarters. The Giants are perfecting an unconventional brand, making it work without blinding speed. Hunter Pence's theft of second in the fifth inning was just the club's third of the postseason. San Francisco's opportunistic attack resembles St. Louis' 1980s model shaped by manager Whitey Herzog -- only without Vince Coleman's wheels.

Here are five things we learned from Game 4:

1. The long ball can be overrated
Reggie Jackson became Mr. October by going deep and deeper, but there are other ways to win postseason games. The Giants stand as Exhibit A, one win away from the World Series despite being outhomered 10-2 in the postseason, 6-0 in the NLCS. That power advantage will be of small consolation to the Cardinals if they don't rally from a 3-1 series deficit to avenge what the Giants did to them in 2012.

San Francisco was dead last in the Majors in home runs in 2012 with 103. Those World Series champs came alive in the postseason with 14 homers. What this latest edition is doing is without mashers or sprinters is stunning.

2. Santiago Casilla is pure gold in the ninth
When Jay poked a single to center with two outs in the ninth, it ended a stretch of 11 2/3 hitless innings by Casilla, who has worked six scoreless frames in the postseason. The hitless streak stretched back to Sept. 11 against the D-backs for manager Bruce Bochy's third closer in three postseason runs.

Video: Casilla gets the save

This became a case of all hands and arms on deck when both starters -- the Giants' Ryan Vogelsong and the Cards' Shelby Miller -- were unable to get through the fourth inning. San Francisco always likes its chances in a duel of bullpens, with Casilla as the anchor.

Sergio Romo, the 2012 closer, avenged his Game 2 defeat, retiring sizzling Kolten Wong in the eighth. Wong had unloaded a walk-off homer against Romo at Busch Stadium.

3. Wong has the look of a rising star
Vogelsong didn't last long largely because of the Cardinals' second baseman and his lethal bat. Wong doubled and scored in the second and homered to right -- his second dinger of the series -- in the third to hand his team a 4-1 lead it could not hold.

All seven of Wong's postseason hits have been for extra bases -- three doubles and a triple to go with three blasts. His 15 total bases in the NLCS are more than any two Giants hitters have produced.

"My confidence level has blown up to where I honestly feel I'm a big leaguer now," Wong, the pride of Hawaii, said. "It's kind of hard to believe I haven't hit any singles, but I'm comfortable with my swing now and it's just a matter of maintaining it.

"It was a season of ups and downs, of getting hurt and trying to establish myself. The feeling I have now is I belong here. At this level, if you don't thrive on pressure, you're not going to last too long. This is what you dream about, when you can hit a ball and hear the crowd go silent."

Wong's home run brought the decibel down for a while, but the Giants have a way of restoring the faith of their fans. Any normal team might have buckled under the weight of Wong's assault, but these Giants don't back down.

4. There's nothing small about Petit's role
As the Cardinals reconstructed the unlikely events of Game 4, they kept coming back to Yusmeiro Petit, the versatile right-hander who took over for Vogelsong in the fourth inning and held them scoreless with one hit through the sixth, turning the tide.

Video: Petit's three scoreless

"The key for them was Petit coming in and shutting us down," Cards leadoff catalyst Matt Carpenter said. "It was like Game 3 when they got off to a four-run lead and we were able to shut them down and come back. They were able to chip away tonight. He knows how to pitch. He's not overpowering, but he's deceptive. He was executing his pitches. That's what he had going."

Petit, a Venezuelan who carries about 250 pounds on his 6-foot-1 frame, was 5-5 with a 3.69 ERA in 39 appearances, 12 as a starter, in the regular season. In Game 4 of the NLCS, he was the difference.

5. Hunter Pence is the most interesting man in baseball
He lifts his uniform pants higher than the shorts worn by the "Fab Five" of Michigan fame. He throws the ball and swings the bat in never-before-seen ways. And he continues to make good things happen for San Francisco.

Pence had a pair of singles, a walk and an RBI in Game 4. He stole a base. He bounded about like a kid at a carnival. Pence has come to represent everything the Giants are about, a totally unique presence on a completely unique team.

Lyle Spencer is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cardinals-Giants, NLCS Game 4: Did you know?

Cardinals-Giants, NLCS Game 4: Did you know?

San Francisco rode six innings of shutout relief and a three-run sixth inning to win, 6-4, on Wednesday night and take a commanding 3-1 series lead over St. Louis.

Here's what you need to know about the Giants' win heading into Game 5:

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  Date Recaps Video
Gm 1 Oct. 11 SF 3, STL 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 12 STL 5, SF 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14 SF 5, STL 4 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15 SF 6, STL 4 video
Gm 5 Oct. 16 SF 6, STL 3 video

• The Cardinals have never come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a postseason series. They are 0-4 in franchise history and were ousted in Game 5 in three of the four series.

• The Giants are 6-0 in series when owning a 3-1 lead. They have won Game 5 five times.

• Only one team in the last six years has come back from a 3-1 hole to win the series: the 2012 Giants did it against St. Louis.

• Wednesday was just the second time this postseason that St. Louis didn't score a run in the seventh inning or later.

• This is the fourth straight postseason with a game that featured both starting pitchers throwing fewer than four innings. Cardinals starter Shelby Miller lasted 3 2/3 innings and the Giants' Ryan Vogelsong recorded nine outs.

The last time was in Game 3 of last year's National League Division Series between the Braves and Dodgers. Prior to that, the previous four instances all included St. Louis.

• The first six leadoff hitters all reached base via a hit, a first in postseason history. The Cardinals became the first team ever with three straight leadoff doubles to start a playoff game.

Kolten Wong has seven postseason hits -- all for extra bases. He hit a double and blasted a solo home run on Wednesday night.


Must C: Wong crushes home run

• Wong's home run was the sixth by a Cardinals rookie this postseason, tying a Major League record.

• Vogelsong gave up four runs on Wednesday night, which matched the amount he had given up in his five career postseason starts combined.

• The Cardinals have not carried a lead into the seventh inning in any of their eight playoff games this year.

• In two postseason appearances this year, Yusmeiro Petit has thrown nine innings of shutout ball while allowing just two hits and striking out 11.


Video: Petit fans four in relief

Matthew DeFranks is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Cardinals nearly get Pence, but safe call confirmed

Cardinals nearly get Pence, but safe call confirmed

SAN FRANCISCO -- A twisting slide at second base allowed outfielder Hunter Pence to steal a bag in the fifth inning of the Giants' 6-4 win in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series on Wednesday, despite Cardinals catcher A.J. Pierzynski's throw beating him to the spot. Second-base umpire Bill Miller called Pence safe, and the call was confirmed after a review.

Had Redbirds shortstop Jhonny Peralta kept his glove on Pence the entire time, the Cardinals might have nabbed him as he briefly popped off the bag. Instead, Pence slid to the outfield side of Peralta's tag, touching second just before Peralta swiped him with his glove.

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The review ultimately did little to help the Giants, however. Brandon Belt flied out to end the inning, stranding Pence on second. That became a theme in the middle innings for the Giants, who walked four times in the fourth and fifth but did not score a run.

Previous replay reviews this postseason

Tigers-Orioles, Game 2 ALDS: Markakis' homer confirmed

Video: Markakis' homer confirmed

With one out and one on in the third inning of a scoreless game, Nick Markakis launched a fly ball to right field that bounced off the grounds' crew shed roof in right field and came back onto the field of play. Right-field umpire Paul Schreiber signaled it was a home run, but Tigers manager Brad Ausmus requested the play be reviewed. The call on the field was confirmed, correctly according to the Camden Yards ground rules, which state: Fly ball hitting the grounds crew shed roof in right field and bouncing back into play: HOME RUN.

Giants-Nationals, Game 1 NLDS: Ishikawa safe at second after reversal

Video: Call at second overturned

With no outs and Travis Ishikawa on second, Jake Peavy laid down a sacrifice bunt. Instead of taking the out at first, Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche threw to second in hopes of gunning down Ishikawa, and umpire Tom Hallion called him out. Bochy challenged the call, and it was overturned after a review of just one minute and one second. Ishikawa would later score in a game the Giants would win 3-2.

Cardinals-Dodgers, NLDS Game 2: Overturned call aids Dodgers win

Video: L.A. gets overturn

A play on a Dee Gordon grounder to second base that Dodgers manager Don Mattingly challenged in the third inning turned out to be a pivotal play in his club's 3-2 victory. Zack Greinke was on first base when Gordon hit a bouncer to Cards second baseman Kolten Wong, who put the tag on Greinke to get an out call from umpire Eric Cooper. Replays, however, showed Wong had tagged Greinke with his glove while the ball was in his throwing hand, and Greinke was awarded second base after the review. He later scored on an Adrian Gonzalez single.

Orioles-Tigers, ALDS Game 3: Schoop's run-saving scoop confirmed

Video: Schoop's play confirmed

With Tigers catcher Alex Avila at third base and two outs in the second inning, shortstop Andrew Romine bunted toward Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop. The ball was deftly scooped up by Schoop, who flipped the ball to first baseman Steve Pearce in one motion, and umpire Jim Wolf called Romine out. With a run at stake, Detroit manager Brad Ausmus challenged the call. After a two-minute, 28-second review, the call on the field stood. The Tigers would lose, 2-1, and were eliminated from the ALDS.

Giants-Nationals, NLDS Game 2: Call stands; Posey out at home

Video: Posey out at home

With the Nationals leading, 1-0, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Pablo Sandoval sliced a ball to the left-field corner with two runners on. Joe Panik easily scored from second, but Buster Posey was called out by home-plate umpire Vic Carapazza after the relay throw beat him by a split second. San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy immediately challenged the call, but it was upheld due to a lack of conclusive evidence.

Dodgers-Cardinals, NLDS Game 4: Molina's laser throw gets Ethier on overturn

Video: Molina throws out Ethier

The Dodgers' A.J. Ellis was at the plate with runners on first and third and two out in the sixth inning when Cardinals reliever Seth Maness bounced a pitch just behind All-Star catcher Yadier Molina. Andre Ethier darted off third toward the plate and stopped short as Molina came up with one of his patented laser throws that seemed to beat the Dodgers center fielder as he retreated back to the bag. Third-base umpire Jerry Meals called Ethier safe as third baseman Matt Carpenter applied the tag. St. Louis manager Mike Matheny challenged, and after a 92-second review, the call was overturned, ending Los Angeles' rally.

Nationals-Giants, NLDS Game 4: Wild seventh seals fate for both Nats, Giants

Video: Call on Posey confirmed

In the act of intentionally walking Pablo Sandoval in the seventh inning of Tuesday's Game 4 of the National League Division Series, which the Giants took from the Nationals, 3-2, Nats reliever Aaron Barrett sailed ball four all the way to the backstop. The result was one of the more bizarre postseason plays in any context. Watching Barrett's mistake from third base, Giants catcher Buster Posey raced home. His counterpart, Wilson Ramos, hustled after the ball, grabbing it after it ricocheted off the wall behind home plate. Then Ramos flipped to Barrett, who tagged Posey while blocking most of the plate with his body. Crew chief Mike Winters called for a review, but the call was confirmed after video replay.

Giants-Cardinals, NLCS Game 1: Out call confirmed after collision at first

Video: Wong out at first

With one out in the seventh inning of what would become a 3-0 Giants win, San Francisco starter Madison Bumgarner and St. Louis second baseman Kolten Wong each converged on first base. Bumgarner was racing over to receive an underhanded toss from Giants first baseman Brandon Belt, and Wong trying to beat out an infield hit. The baseball and Bumgarner arrived first, and in applying a tag, Bumgarner bumped Wong out of the baseline. Saying the play "just didn't look right," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny challenged the out call, which was confirmed after a review of only 52 seconds.

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Pierzynski hits the ground to draw interference call

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Pierzynski hits the ground to draw interference call

Drawing inspiration from soccer's gamesmanship, Cardinals catcher A.J. Pierzynski didn't take any chances that hitter's interference wouldn't be called on Wednesday night. In the bottom of the second inning of Game 4 of the NLCS, Travis Ishikawa struck out on a ball in the dirt, his backswing clipping Pierzynski in the head.  

Continue Reading on Cut4

MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Giants beating Cardinals at their own game

Giants beating Cardinals at their own game

SAN FRANCISCO -- The St. Louis Cardinals look across the diamond at the San Francisco Giants and see themselves. At least, they see the team they were for most of the season.

That's the team they want to be. The team that sweats the small stuff. The team that runs the bases smartly and keeps pressure on the opposition. The team that relentlessly takes advantage of the other guy's mistakes.

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These Giants are a thing of beauty in the most basic of ways, and that's why they're closing in on their third National League pennant in five years after beating the Cardinals, 6-4, on Wednesday in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series. The Giants lead 3-1 and can clinch a berth opposite the Royals in the World Series as early as Thursday night.

When this one ended, the Cards expressed some mixture of frustration in themselves and admiration for the Giants. These Giants are a tribute to all those instructors who spent hours and hours preaching that there are a bunch of different ways to win baseball games.

  Date Recaps Video
Gm 1 Oct. 11 SF 3, STL 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 12 STL 5, SF 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14 SF 5, STL 4 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15 SF 6, STL 4 video
Gm 5 Oct. 16 SF 6, STL 3 video

The Giants have just two home runs in this postseason, but who cares about that? Some have called the Giants lucky. These are the people who don't get it. These aren't the Cardinals.

"They're just a good postseason team," Cards third baseman Matt Carpenter said. "They do a good job. They don't make a lot of mistakes."

And that's the thing that has to be gnawing at the Cardinals. They're making mistakes they don't normally make. They're making physical mistakes, and they're making some mental ones, too.

This didn't happen all that much during the regular season. In fact, the Cards were a much better defensive team than the Giants.

But that was then.

These are two evenly matched teams, but with the spotlight shining brightly and the pressure on, the Giants seem about as relaxed as a baseball team can be.

"I think we're just trying to take it game by game," Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford said. "I know it's an old cliche and you guys don't like hearing it, but that's really what our attitude is."

Yeah, that quote won't grab people's attention, but it might tell you all you need to know about the Giants.

Here's how San Francisco won Game 4.

The Giants trailed, 4-1, after the top of the third inning. Their starting pitcher, Ryan Vogelsong, lasted just three innings and allowed four earned runs. That's as many earned runs as he had allowed in his five previous postseason starts combined.

When a team gets so little from its starting pitcher and when a team isn't hitting home runs, that's a prescription for defeat.

Video: Miller on Giants' lineup

Here's what the Giants did.

They got contributions up and down their lineup, from Buster Posey to Pablo Sandoval to Hunter Pence. You've heard of those guys, right?

Perhaps only Giants fans know Joaquin Arias, Matt Duffy and Juan Perez. San Francisco got contributions from them, too.

And most impressively, they got six shutout innings from six relievers. It began with right-hander Yusmeiro Petit, who went three innings in relief of Vogelsong and helped change the entire tone of the game.

And the Giants took advantage of St. Louis' mistakes.

Twice, Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams fielded ground balls with Giants on base in the sixth inning. Once, he made a poor throw home to allow a run to score. Another time, Adams threw toward second base without checking Crawford at third base. Crawford ran home with the game-tying run.

The Giants also got their leadoff man on base in six of the first seven innings. These runners kept pressure on the Cards, and then by drawing walks and running the bases and doing all that stuff, the Giants made the game routine.

Video: Posey on Giants

This is what they do. It's no accident that the Giants accumulate the kind of players who understand that the difference between winning and losing is minuscule. It's also no accident that their manager, Bruce Bochy, almost certainly has punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame.

Bochy puts his players in position to succeed. He makes sure they know he believes in them, which makes it easier for them to believe in themselves. In ways large and small, it works.

"If you're not hitting the long ball, you have to find ways to manufacture runs, and the guys did a great job," Bochy said. "Baserunning has a lot to do with it. Not striking out. Putting the ball in play. You try to put pressure on the other club, and that's how it happens."

Over in the other clubhouse, the Cardinals know these two teams are evenly matched, that this should be a heavyweight bout. But the beauty of the postseason is that sometimes teams do things they hadn't done for six months. And sometimes, one team thrives in the postseason.

"They're not going to beat themselves," Carpenter said. "They play the game the way it needs to be played. We take a lot of pride in that as well. We knew it was going to be a fight. We knew even getting out to an early lead they weren't going to go away. We just weren't able to hold onto it today."

So the Cards have no margin for error. They've got their big guy, Adam Wainwright, going against Giants ace Madison Bumgarner in Game 5 on Thursday on FOX Sports 1. It ain't over till it's over, etc.

"They are letting us play again tomorrow," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We can control tomorrow."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Oct. 15 Matheny postgame interview

Oct. 15 Matheny postgame interview

Q. You had a 4‑1 lead and things kind of got a way. Do you have any regrets about maybe sticking with Shelby too long and letting that lead get down to one run?

MIKE MATHENY:  We got him out in the fourth. That's pretty early.

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Yeah, we're trying to be on top, see if we can make a move. Left with a lead and an opportunity to take that a little deeper into the game. Just didn't work out.

Q. Can you talk about the confidence that you had leaving Choate out there? It was pretty evident you were fired up and behind him on that one.

MIKE MATHENY:  The guy has had a great season for us, and we're going to need him. We needed him tonight, we need him as long as we can play. And he's going to have to continue to get big outs for us and we trust that he's going to get the job done regardless of what happened last time.

Always anxious to get our guys back in after they had a tough night and watch them answer the bell. He did a nice job of getting us out of that inning and giving us a chance to keep moving forward with the lead.

Q. On the second ground ball hit to Adams where he takes the play to first and then tries for the force, how would you like to see that play handled?

MIKE MATHENY:  Yeah, it's the right play by touching the base. He's just got to check home at that point. And the runner wasn't going. We eat the ball, got a base hit and we got a lot of different options we can go to at that point.

But you know, they took off once he released the ball to second base. That's not really the play we want.

Q. I know it's not pleasant to watch him, but when you see Posey have a game like tonight, being a former catcher yourself, any special appreciation for what he does?

MIKE MATHENY:  I don't know if appreciation is the right word. It's hard to watch. We trust our guys to go out and get anybody out. Have a great deal of respect for the calibre of player he is. We know in big situations, he doesn't scare and he's going to answer the bell.

We tried to put ourselves in spots where we don't necessarily need to see him in big situations. But they do seem to keep coming up and he's making the most of it, and that's what big‑time players do.

Q. Obviously not the situation you want to be in, down 3‑1, but still tomorrow you have Wainwright. Even though he has a high ERA in the playoffs, he's still your ace. How do you feel having him to stay alive?

MIKE MATHENY:  Nobody else we'd rather have on the mound. We don't look at it in series. We haven't done that all season. We look at it as a game. They are letting us play again tomorrow. We can control tomorrow, and Adam Wainwright is going to set the tone for us. Everybody's got to follow suit and jump in and figure out a way to make it happen.

But we don't take it any further than one at a time when we've got our guy on the mound.

Q. You had Michael warming up, I'm guessing if you would have tied it, he would have taken over at that point. What do you like about him better in that situation versus early in the game with a long‑inning situation?

MIKE MATHENY:  We haven't had a situation really to get him in there that he's going to get stretched out like we need him to. We're also in that spot that if we get a chance to get somebody on and hit a home run and we don't have anybody at the back end of this game to throw multiple innings, we're in a bad place.

Exactly the same situation I told you before the first series. This is his role right now. Now it could change tomorrow, since we have used the bullpen pretty hard. It could be different. You know, we keep kind of talking about this, but it's the same answer, and this is what he's going to have to be prepared for, and he will. And when he gets his chance, I know he'll be sharp.

Q. What do you think the root of Shelby's problem was?

MIKE MATHENY:  Well, it was really ‑‑ you see some walks. Walks, you play a team like this and it's not just Shelby, you go through our pitching as a whole. We give free bases and we give extra outs, non‑plays, it's going to come back and it's going to bite you when we're in a close series with a team that's playing well and doing things fundamentally right. Those will, and they did, cost us.

At times, Shelby I believe got to the middle of the plate. Saw a couple of the replays where the ball was up the middle and these guys, especially in the middle of the order, are going to make you pay for that.

Q. How much of a factor was it and how disappointed were you that you put up the runs early and then didn't tack on after the third inning like that?

MIKE MATHENY:  Yeah, it was nice to get a lead and be on the other side of that. Knowing that this team is going to continue to fight and put together tough at‑bats, and that's typically when either we figure out a way to get to their pen and start tacking them on, and we just couldn't make it work.

Had a couple opportunities where had some pressure put on them, but they made the plays when they needed to and we couldn't get that big hit after early.

For the most part, we had some guys come in and pitch some good innings for us, figure out a way to get it done. And just that one inning jumped up with the lead‑off walk and a couple hits ended up being the difference.

Q. If you guys tie it up, who is your catcher, Daniel or Yadi?

MIKE MATHENY:  Yadi's catching, yeah.

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Cards opt for Pierzynski's experience over Cruz

Cards opt for Pierzynski's experience over Cruz

SAN FRANCISCO -- Because manager Mike Matheny has abstained from tinkering with any of his other starting position players, catching remains the only position at which he had much of a decision to make for Game 4 of the National League Championship Series on Wednesday. He eventually settled with veteran A.J. Pierzynski over lifetime Cardinal Tony Cruz.

Of all the factors that went into that decision, Matheny said the most influential was also the most recent.

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  Date Recaps Video
Gm 1 Oct. 11 SF 3, STL 0 video
Gm 2 Oct. 12 STL 5, SF 4 video
Gm 3 Oct. 14 SF 5, STL 4 video
Gm 4 Oct. 15 SF 6, STL 4 video
Gm 5 Oct. 16 SF 6, STL 3 video

"I thought [Pierzynski] did a good job yesterday. It's yesterday driven," Matheny explained. "He did a nice job. You look at two of those hits we gave up in the first [inning] and the balls were neck high. And I thought [Pierzynski] put together a real nice swing in left-center. Hit today [without the wind], it's probably a double. I think the potential he brings offensively, the experience, and he didn't hurt us defensively."

Pierzynski caught Game 4 starter Shelby Miller six times this season, with Miller posting a 4.29 ERA with Pierzynski behind the plate. It was lower with Yadier Molina (3.57) and Cruz (3.80), though the sample sizes with both Cruz (23 2/3 innings) and Pierzynski (33 2/3 innings) were small.

As for looking for the better offensive matchup against Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong, Matheny didn't have many data points to work with. Cruz has never faced Vogelsong, while Pierzynski is hitless in two previous at-bats against him.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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