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Baggs' Instant Replay: Giants' season on the brink

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Giants' Season on the Brink

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BOX SCORE ST. LOUIS Tim Lincecum battled deep counts, labored through traffic, he entreated Dave Righetti for three mound visits, and 91 pitches only advanced him two outs deep into the fifth inning Thursday night.It was the kind of sluggish, brow mopping, occasionally effective start that a team is accustomed to receiving from the No. 5 man in its rotation which, sadly, is exactly who Lincecum has been for the Giants this season.Lincecum walked off with the Giants trailing by three and the Cardinals did not drive a pace car from there. They continued to hit against the Giants bullpen, racing away for a convincing, 8-3 victory in Game 4 that put Mike Mathenys team within one victory of the World Series.The Cardinals lead the NLCS three games to one, meaning that the Giants find themselves in the same spot as they stood in the Division Series round against the Cincinnati Reds: Win three in a row or call it a wrap.At least the Giants only need to win one at Busch Stadium to force this series to return to the shores of McCovey Cove, where Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain await.Itll be up to Barry Zito, et al, in Game 5 to get them there.Lance Lynn is starting for the Cardinals, and the last time the Giants faced him at Busch Stadium, they won 15-0. So theres that. And if you need something else to hug, the Giants have won their last 12 games with Zito on the mound.Of 33 teams to trail 3-1 in a best-of-seven LCS, only four have come back to advance.Starting pitching reportLincecums three postseason relief appearances could not paper over so many months of mediocrity or worse. He was not going to be the Cy Young Award winner who whirled and overwhelmed opponents in 2008 and 09. He was not going to be the true ace who won a World Series clincher two years ago.Four batters into the game and Lincecum already trailed 2-0, having recorded his only out in that stretch on Allen Craigs streaking comet of a sacrifice fly that Angel Pagan chased down in center field.Lincecum began the game from the stretch, which was unusual only for three pitches because Jon Jay singled up the middle. Matt Carpenter drew a walk as Lincecum misfired a couple of non-competitive pitches as he struggled to throw two in a row with the same mechanics. Matt Holliday followed with a single up the middle that scored Jay. Craigs sacrifice fly couldve been much worse.Lincecum averted a total blowup in the first inning by striking out Daniel Descalso to strand two runners. He also pitched around two walks in the second inning, but only because his outfielders ran down deep drives while leaving more marks on the warning track than a wagon team of Clydesdales.The Cardinals went down in order in the third and fourth, as Lincecum got away with a few pitches. Yadier Molina crushed one of them in the third to dead center field, where Pagan made a leaping catch at the wall. It wasnt quite a home run robbery, but you cant hold that against him unless youre Molina, who hadnt been able to buy a hit in this postseason.Lincecums final battle came in the fifth, and he could not survive it. Carpenters one-out double bounced high off the center field wall, just a couple feet short of leaving the yard. Holliday followed by stroking a drive that seemed ticketed for the right-center gap, but Pagan made a charging dive and came up with it cleanly on a short hop.It was the kind of play that saves a run except in this case, it didnt.Shortstop Brandon Crawfords relay throw to the plate was on line and arrived well ahead of Carpenter, but it skipped and catcher Hector Sanchez couldnt handle the hop as the Cardinals went up 3-1.Holliday took second on the throw and Lincecum couldnt seal up the inning. After striking out Craig, Molina battled him for a pair of two-strike fouls before grounding a changeup that leaked through the middle. Holliday scored easily to make it 4-1, Bruce Bochy tottered out for the baseball and Lincecum was left to wonder when hell get to seize it again.Bullpen reportGeorge Kontos stranded Lincecums runner in the fifth, but Descalso and Kozma singled to start the sixth. Left-hander Jose Mijares hadnt folded his napkin across his lap before Jon Jay doubled to score them both.Guillermo Motas startlingly ineffective postseason continued as the Cardinals added on in the seventh.It was notable that Bochy didnt immediately employ his frontline relievers to hold serve. Then again, the way Adam Wainwright was dealing, perhaps a 4-1 lead looked as wide as the mighty Mississippi already. Besides, Bochy is likely to need all hands to back up Zito in Game 5.So there had to be some teeth grinding when Mota couldnt handle the mop and Bochy had to burn Jeremy Affeldt.At the plateA lineup shuffle made no difference. A casino full of card shufflers wouldnt have produced a different outcome against Wainwright, who seldom left pitches over the plate and power-curved his way through innings.The Giants had but one bat-related highlight while it was still a game: Hunter Pence, after another pregame high-school football huddle in the dugout, finally contributed in the batters box. His 451-foot home run in the second inning had serious hangtime and cut the Cardinals lead to 2-1.But Wainwright retired 11 of the next 12 hitters, and stopped a rally in the sixth before it moved beyond a lurch. After Pagan and Marco Scutaro hit one-out singles, Posey had a chance to get the Giants even with one swing. But his fly ball to right field couldnt find turf, and Sandoval grounded to second base to end the inning.So much has been made of getting Posey pitches to hit, with the underlying assumption that hed know what to do with them. But Posey was 0 for 4, hes batting just .182 in the postseason, and hes driven in just one run apart from his grand slam off Mat Latos in Cincinnati.Posey might be back behind the plate to catch Zito in Game 5. Thats because Sanchez did not represent an improvement over Brandon Belt in the lineup, striking out three times and grounding out in the ninth to avoid the full sombrero.Sandoval hammered a two-run shot in the ninth that traveled an estimated 426 feet. It made the final accounting a bit less lopsided, but there was nothing else for Giants fans to like about the balance sheet.In fieldOn a different night, and with a different outcome, Pagan would have earned a heros anthem for his leaping catch on Molinas drive and his diving play to cut off Hollidays single.Sanchez has a lot to learn before he can be considered a good defensive catcher, but arm strength isnt an issue. He made a perfect throw in the second inning to nab Pete Kozma, who had reached on an error when third baseman Pablo Sandoval dropped a ground ball. (Kozma tried to take off on a pitch to Wainwright; someone in a red helmet mustve missed a sign on that one.)AttendanceThe Cardinals announced 47,062 paid, and not one Miller-Coors product was served.Up nextThe Giants and Cardinals meet in Game 5 on Friday at Busch Stadium. Left-hander Barry Zito (0-0, 6.75 in one postseason start) will oppose right-hander Lance Lynn (1-1, 8.59 in five postseason appearances). First pitch is scheduled for 5:07 p.m. PDT.

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