ST. LOUIS -- With a chance to finally include the home crowd in a series-clinching celebration, the Cardinals instead endured a postponement of their attempted return trip to the World Series.
It was a delivery from Lance Lynn -- not to his catcher, but rather to second base -- that spurred a fourth-inning unraveling, one detrimental enough to chase Lynn and send the Cards back out west with the taste of a clincher-turned-clunker, 5-0 loss to the Giants in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series.
"San Francisco is a great city," said David Freese, "but I wish we weren't going back."
That's not an option now, though the Redbirds will have some say in the duration of this next stay. While Busch Stadium, which hosted another sellout crowd on Friday night, won't be the site of any champagne popping in this postseason round, St. Louis still needs to knock off San Francisco only once more.
The Cardinals split the two games at AT&T Park earlier in the series.
"We never [thought] for a second that these guys are going to go away," manager Mike Matheny said of the Giants, who reeled off three straight elimination-game wins in their NL Division Series against the Reds. "They're a good team, and they're going to keep fighting. We know that. It just comes down to execution. They executed today better than we did."
Feeling fortunate to depart St. Louis with a 3-2 series lead, the Cards are similarly relieved by the assurance that they won't have to face Barry Zito -- at least as a starter -- again.
Zito, whose career was at such a low point two years ago that he was left off San Francisco's postseason roster, provided the biggest pick-me-up of his Giants career. After twirling 7 2/3 shutout innings on Friday, Zito termed the performance the biggest of his 13-year career.
The Giants have now won each of Zito's last 13 starts.
"We can't take anything away from Barry Zito," Cardinals reliever Mitchell Boggs said. "He went out there and won them that game. It doesn't matter how hard you throw when you have deception and a good curveball. He's as tough as anybody when he's right. He did great tonight."
The Cards could not say the same of Lynn's night, which progressed similarly to his NLCS Game 1 start. That outing ended after 3 2/3 innings. His second postseason start would be halted at the same point.
Again, Lynn breezed through three innings, this time striking out five of the first eight batters he faced. The Giants didn't record a hit.
That changed in the fourth, which opened with back-to-back singles. Lynn answered by striking out Buster Posey, and he seemingly had himself poised to head back to the dugout entirely unscathed when he induced a comebacker off the bat of Hunter Pence.
Instead of going for the sure out at first base, Lynn fielded, turned to second and delivered a throw he hoped would be the start of an inning-ending double play.
"I don't mind him being aggressive," Matheny said of the attempt to turn two, "if he's got the play."
Lynn thought he did but nevertheless threw away his chance to end the frame.
With shortstop Pete Kozma, who briefly hesitated, still coming toward the base -- "I was late covering the bag," Kozma said afterward -- Lynn short-armed his throw. It went low, bouncing off the front of the bag and caroming into center field.
A run scored and, just as critical, no out was recorded.
"I could have gotten myself out of the inning," Lynn said. "It's definitely my fault."
Still, Lynn positioned himself to exit the inning without further damage but never could get that third out. Brandon Crawford sent a two-out, two-run single bouncing through the middle of the infield. Zito added to Lynn's frustration with a bunt single -- the first of his career -- to plate the fourth run of the inning.
It was a play not called by the dugout, but rather initiated by Zito, who, on this night, could do no wrong.
"I knew I didn't have much of a chance of hitting off Lynn," Zito said. "But I saw a situation where I could possibly get one down ... so I tried it."
That ended Lynn's night. He allowed four earned runs in his previous NLCS start; this time, all four against him were unearned.
"It's just another bad inning," Lynn said. "At this time of the year, they'll blow up on you if you give them that extra out."
Though the Cardinals had plenty of time to chip away at the deficit, Zito allowed none of it. In fact, by the time San Francisco moved in front, 4-0, St. Louis' best run-scoring opportunity had already passed untapped.
After opening the second with a Yadier Molina single and a double by Freese, which sent Molina to third, the Cards couldn't advance either.
Daniel Descalso struck out on an 84-mph fastball. And after an intentional walk to Kozma, Lynn made the unwise choice to swing. He grounded into a double play to end the threat.
"It might be a little too early in the game to call it a turning point, but we would have liked to have capitalized there -- at least come away with one," Descalso said. "Those are the type of things you have to execute on in order to win ballgames."
The Cardinals wasted a leadoff double by Allen Craig two innings later and never again threatened the 34-year-old lefty, who hadn't won a postseason game since 2006. St. Louis wrapped up the night 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
A rested Cards bullpen gave a strong effort behind Lynn, with rookies Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal not allowing the four-run deficit to balloon. Pablo Sandoval's eighth-inning homer off Boggs ended the stretch of scoreless relief.
The Giants, though, still have history stacked against them. Only three times has a team rallied from a 3-1 NLCS deficit to advance to the World Series.
"They've been doing this all year, and obviously [in] the Cincinnati series [rallied back]," Freese said. "They're going to be talking about that -- 'Here come the Giants.' It's good for TV, but it's disappointing on this end."
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.