ST. LOUIS Take this for what its worth:
The Cardinals instructed their players to arrive at BuschStadium for Game 5 on Friday with their bags packed in case the series shiftsback to San Francisco.
Two years ago, Giants manager Bruce Bochy did the oppositewhen the Giants needed a win in the final regular-season game to clinch the NLWest. A loss and the team wouldve been forced into a one-game playoff at SanDiego the following day.
Bochy told his players to bring themselves, and nothingelse.
It was a bold stroke bolder now, with time and perspective.
Oh, we wouldve been scrambling, Bochy has said, on morethan one occasion.
Make no mistake about it: The Giants are scrambling now.They must rattle off three consecutive victories to claim the NL pennant, andwhile they already accomplished the same Heartbreak Hill climb in Cincinnati,there is more lactic acid in their legs now. And generals on horseback can onlydeliver a war speech once.
Remember the Maine! Remember the Alamo! Remember GreatAmerican Ball Park!
(Actually, the Maine exploded and sank and everyone died atthe Alamo. Who comes up with these depressing rallying cries, again? Anyway, you get the premise.)
We believed we could do it in Cincinnati, Giantsleft-hander Jeremy Affeldt said. I dont see any reason why we shouldntbelieve now.
I dont expect those guys over there will think anything iswrapped up yet, and we wont let anything be wrapped up. We wont roll over.Thats not our nature. We showed that in Cincinnati. It can be dangerous toplay a team that has that type of mentality.
Until the first pitch Friday night, the only things theCardinals will wrap up are their shaving kits.
We're coming here packed," Cardinals third basemanDavid Freese said. "Hopefully, we can unpack."
The Giants will have to find a new motivational speaker.Hunter Pence is out of things to say.
Probably not, said Pence, asked if he planned anotherfiery oration before Game 5. Its ran its course. I didnt have the firstspeech prepared (before Game 3 in Cincinnati). It just happened.
Who knows who might speak? Who knows what happens when yourbacks against the wall?
I asked Buster Posey, the NL batting champion and likelyMVP: Would he take the floor?
I think we all know at this point what its going to take,Posey said.
Funny how baseball works. Amid all the hand wringing aboutgetting Posey pitches to hit, there was the underlying assumption that hedknow what to do with them.
But you look up and Posey is hitting .183 in the postseason,and aside from his grand slam off Mat Latos in Cincinnati, hes driven in justone run.
He was 0 for 4 with three fly outs against Adam Wainwright,who really did spin one of the better games youll see pitched this postseason.Wainwright even said his curveball might have broken better than it ever has,which is quite a statement.
I had a few pitches to hit, Posey told me.
Are these empty games beginning to take a mental toll onhim?
Well, personally, there have been some frustrating times,he said. But at this point, its all about winning. Weve still got life andthats the main thing.
What does manager Bruce Bochy make of Posey, who is 2 for 14with no runs, no RBIs and no extra-base hits in the NLCS?
Hes such a good hitter, and the bar is set so high withBuster, Bochy said. You go a game or two without a hit and the questions aregoing to be asked. But hes fine. Theyre making good pitches. Theyre beingcareful with him. We know it and he knows it.
When the playoffs began, I thought the Reds were the mosttalented team, top to bottom, in the National League. But the Cardinals are notlight on power arms in their bullpen, either. They have experience if notdominance in their rotation and their lineup just has a way of grinding down anopponent that the Reds did not.
"They do havesomething going, no getting around that, with what they did last year and thisyear, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
We have all the confidence in Barry (Zito) tomorrow. Wehave to get these bats going, though. Theyre shutting us down. It would benice, make life a little easier, to get some runs for our staff.
As third base coach Tim Flannery said in Cincinnati, theGiants needed something weird to happen, they needed a big pitchingperformance, they needed at least one game when the runs flowed and they neededto pull out at least one in the late innings to run the table. All of thosethings happened.
This time, it might be simpler: They need to bring thisseries home, where Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain offer authentic hope.
We worked hard to be here, Pence said. We played verywell to be here. Thats the way Ill continue to look at it. Zito has beentremendous for us. Weve got to find a way to get tomorrow, and if we can gohome with Vogelsong and Cain, were feeling pretty confident.
If the Cardinals clinch in Game 5, they can hang their haton this: Theyll break the Giants streak of 12 consecutive victories when Zitotakes the mound.
Of course, thats not so impressive when youve already beatenAtlanta and Kris Medlen in the wild card knockout game and the Braves had wona major league record 23 consecutive games with Medlen on the mound.
The Cardinals will come packed. The Giants had better pack alunch.