ST. LOUIS -- Those weren't the division-winning, postseason-qualifying, pitcher-terrifying Giants who toiled Wednesday at Busch Stadium.Rather, the Giants who lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, 3-1, in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series more closely resembled the struggling squads of the past, recent and distant. At the worst possible time, San Francisco displayed its pre-All-Star-break tendency to flounder with runners in scoring position. That doomed Matt Cain to the type of defeat that characterized his early years with the Giants -- poor run support combined with an isolated yet crucial pitching lapse, in this case Matt Carpenter's two-run homer. Cain succinctly addressed both distateful subjects.
"That's what you want, is to have a lot of opportunities. Today we just came up a little short. I made a bad pitch and it cost us," he said.Given the fact that the Game 3 winner has captured the NLCS in six of the previous seven years, this setback was an ominous one for San Francisco. The prospect of falling behind 3-1 in the series with another loss Thursday was something they refused to contemplate. "We have to come out ready to go, because we don't want to do that," catcher Buster Posey said.
"Tomorrow, we're going to play our game," third baseman Pablo Sandoval vowed.The Giants might have allowed themselves to believe that circumstances took the Cardinals out of their game when Carlos Beltran, St. Louis' slugging right fielder, departed after one inning with a strained left knee. But St. Louis manager Mike Matheny installed Carpenter, a rookie who imitated Beltran nicely with his third-inning clout. Carpenter's homer offset the efforts of the Giants, who outhit St. Louis, 9-6, and drew five walks but left 11 runners on base. San Francisco went hitless in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position. That contrasted with the Giants' Major League-leading .296 batting average in those situations during the regular season's second half. "I definitely feel like we missed some opportunities," Posey said. "That was encouraging that we put guys on base. Hopefully we'll get the big hit tomorrow." Posey, the NL's leading Most Valuable Player candidate, has begun to receive fewer pitches to hit. He went 1-for-2 with two walks in Game 3. Avoidance of Posey would come to a halt if the man who bats behind him, Hunter Pence, could start producing. But Pence has batted .161 (5-for-31) with zero RBIs this postseason, including 0-for-4 in Game 3. "They got me this time, but I look forward to the challenge of next time," said Pence, who drove in 45 runs in 59 regular-season games after the Giants acquired him at the Trade Deadline. "That's just part of the game. I know how good a hitter Buster is, and I look forward to those at-bats all the time." Posey maintained faith in Pence, who grounded into an inning-ending double play with runners on the corners in the third inning, hit into an inning-ending forceout in the fifth and struck out with runners on first and second and one out in the seventh. "Anytime he comes up with runners in scoring position, I think he's going to get the job done," Posey said. Asked whether he'd consider altering the batting order for Game 4, Giants manager Bruce Bochy responded, "We might talk about it." Changes might be easier to implement if backup catcher Hector Sanchez breaks into the lineup to catch Game 4 starter Tim Lincecum while Posey moves to first base. San Francisco's subpar hitting magnified Cain's occasional lapses. But he grew accustomed to that long ago. Among active pitchers with at least 200 starts, Cain owns the lowest career run support -- an average of 3.85 runs per game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. This time, Cain looked sharp despite yielding all of St. Louis' runs in 6 2/3 innings. He allowed runners to advance past first base in only the second and seventh innings. "His fastball had a lot of life on it," Posey said. "He definitely threw well enough to win." He didn't, partly because Carpenter drove a 2-2 slider into the right-field bullpen after Jon Jay's two-out single prolonged the third inning. "We have to make good pitches, and that's what I failed to do," Cain said, explaining that he dangled his fateful pitch to Carpenter over the plate instead of throwing it low and inside as he intended. Including the regular season, Carpenter happens to be 5-for-5 off Cain. That's not a fluke, Cardinals third baseman David Freese insisted.
"He'd probably be starting on so many teams in this league," Freese said of Carpenter.St. Louis added a run in the seventh inning, which was interrupted for three hours and 28 minutes by rain. The Cardinals loaded the bases with one out on Freese's double, Daniel Descalso's intentional walk and Pete Kozma's single. Shane Robinson then grounded slowly to second baseman Marco Scutaro, who declined to try starting a potential inning-ending double play. Scutaro also decided against throwing home and opted for the out at first base, enabling Freese to score. Javier Lopez relieved Cain but had a prolonged wait to throw his first pitch, as the umpires decided the field was too drenched. Though Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse worked 5 2/3 innings and earned the decision, St. Louis' relievers made the definitive difference, as they did in Game 1. Right-handers Trevor Rosenthal and Mitchell Boggs each stranded a pair of runners in the sixth and seventh innings, respectively. Then came Jason Motte, who retired all six batters he faced to record his first career two-inning save. Shortstop Brandon Crawford praised the velocity of St. Louis' relievers but concluded, "They're hittable. Anybody's hittable. Hopefully we'll get to them tomorrow."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.