Broken-bat hit haunts Cardinals, completes collapse

October 23, 2012, 7:54 am
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SAN FRANCISCO Bruce Bochy had Matt Cain. As the longesttenured Giant on the playoff roster and the owner of the franchises firstperfect game, who better to start Game 7? Mike Matheny had Kyle Lohse. While Lohse doesnt have Cains pedigree, he puttogether the best regular season of his 12-year career in 2012 and helped theCardinals escape from a one-game playoff with the Atlanta Braves. And headinginto Mondays game at AT&T Park, Lohse had allowed two earned runs in 12.2innings over two starts in the NLDS and NLCS. Many San Francisco hitters felt they let Lohse off the hookin Game 3, when he picked up the win by outdueling Cain, despite five walks. InGame 7, the Giants got Lohse to bite back on the hook early, reeled him in and didnot catch and release.The Giants filleted Lohse for five runs in two innings. The Cardinals34-year-old right-hander threw 46 pitches and just two of them were swungthrough. I got myself in trouble early and theres no room for errorin a game like this, Lohse said in a solemn St. Louis clubhouse after thegame.Lohse started the third inning but headed back to thevisitors dugout with his head down without recording an out in that fatefulframe. With the Giants already up 2-0 after scoring a run in each of the firsttwo innings, NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro led off the third with his second single ofthe evening and his 13th hit of the series. With his Game 7performance, Scutaro became just the second player in baseball history to havea 20-game regular season hitting streak and a 10-game postseason hitting streakin the same season, joining Mike Piazza. Lohse explained what makes Scutarosuch a tough out.Do you want to get technical? Hes shortening up and not trying to do toomuch. Guys like that, for me, are the toughest outs. You give me a guy thatsswinging for the fences Ill get him out every time. But a guy that isntafraid to shoot the ball to righthes just a tough out. You cant fool himwith offspeed because hes not trying to pull it. We just couldnt find a wayto get him out in key situations.Scutaro advanced to third when Pablo Sandoval went the opposite way for adouble and Buster Posey followed with a walk to load the bases. Matheny hadseen enough from Lohse and decided to hand the ball over to Joe Kelly to faceHunter Pence with no outs and nowhere to put him. He did a very nice job all through this run of answering the bell and reallyhaving great composure for a young pitcher, Matheny said of the 24-year-old right-handerhe trusted to keep the Cardinals in the game.Pence, who struck out in his first at-bat of Game 7 to fall to 3-for-24 in theNLCS, cleared the bases with a bizarre base hit. Pence swung at Kellys firstoffering, a 95 MPH two-seam fastball that cracked his bat. The broken barrel thenhit the ball two more times as Pence completed his swing and it led to aknuckling grounder that shook St. Louis shortstop Pete Kozma. Once the ball gotpast Kozma, it entered a no-mans land between Matt Holliday in left and JonJay in center. Both outfielders approached the ball timidly before Jaymisplayed it to allow a slow-footed Posey to score all the way from first.I didnt know what happened until I went back and looked atreplays, Kelly said. I thought I was just going to get a jam shot to theshortstop and all the sudden I was like Oh, that was weird and it looked likeit was a wiffle ball out there or something.Kozma, who wasnt charged with an error on the play butcommitted one later in the game, provided his perspective.The read I got, it was going towards the hole. I thought itcame around it. The ball was like a little banana and went up the middle. Theball kind of peeled like he sliced it. I just reacted to the ball and had achance at it Ive never seen anything like that.Matheny didnt throw Kelly or Kozma under the bus after the game.Joe Kelly came in, especially as a young pitcher, and did aterrific job getting the ball on the ground. As the ball left the bat I thoughtthat was our double play.Kozmas been a tremendous shortstop for us that ball was very unusual theway it came off the bat.While Matheny wouldnt play the blame game, he didnt downplay the importanceof that sequence either.That is a turning point in the game. Youre looking at apotential double play. We may be able to get out of that inning where its a3-0 game. And that was really what we were hoping for, to get that ground ball.And it was just one that had a lot more spin than what they usually have. Andit was a tough play.The Cardinals nightmare inning was just getting started, however. A BrandonBelt infield single and a Gregor Blanco walk re-loaded the bases for BrandonCrawford. On a routine ground ball to short, Kozma ignored the sure out atfirst for a chance to prevent Pence from scoring. The throw was too late,however, and the Giants suddenly had a 6-0 lead still with no outs in theinning. First base was probably my better play, Kozma said. Onething leads to another. We just keep giving extra outs and theyre going toscore more runs, get more chances.Angel Pagan made it a five-run inning with an RBI fielderschoice and the Cardinals never recovered against Cain or Bochys bullpen.Mattt Cain pitched great for them and they played better baseball tonight,Carlos Beltran said. We made a lot of mistakes and the didnt make any.For the Giants to win three straight games to complete theirsecond straight playoff series comeback, it took a Cardinal collapse as much asa San Francisco surge. St. Louis was 1-for-21 with runners in scoring positionover the final three games.You have short runs like this sometimes; its a tough game, Matheny said.And its about the team that was hot, and we went on a cold streak.The cold streak certainly contributed to the Giantsadvancing to their second Fall Classic in the last three years, but that didntstop the Cardinals from giving credit where credit is due.The Giants, theyre a helluva team; and theyve showed it,obviously, two series in a row, said David Freese, the 2011 NLCS and WorldSeries MVP. It stinks, obviously, not getting to the World Series, but werevery proud of what we accomplished this year.The Giants can appreciate what the Cardinals accomplished as well. The fewplayers remaining from the 2010 team know better than anyone else how hard itis to repeat as World Series champions.