ST. LOUIS — They are one win from their second straight trip to the World Series and could be the first National League team to win back-to-back World Series since the Cincinnati Reds in 1975-76.
“I don’t think we’ve really thought about that,’’ said ace Chris Carpenter following an 8-3 win over the Giants Thursday night that gave the Cardinals a commanding 3-1 lead in the National League Championship Series. “We have to take care of business. The Giants are capable of winning three straight games. They did it against Cincinnati [in the Division Series] to get here, so we can’t let our guard down.’’
The Cardinals defeated two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, and Adam Wainwright allowed just one run and four hits over seven innings, handing it over to the bullpen to finish it off. The Cardinals scored two runs in the first, fifth, sixth, and seventh innings to complete the shellacking of the Giants, who turn to lefthander Barry Zito in Game 5 Friday to save their season.
Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, and Yadier Molina drove in two runs apiece to pace the Cardinals’ attack.
This was a series many thought would go seven games, pitting the last two World Series champions (the Giants won in 2010). The winner will face the Detroit Tigers, who swept the Yankees in four games in the ALCS.
The Cardinals are made up of players developed from the farm system, a smattering of veterans, and a notable leader in Carpenter. Even with the departure of manager Tony La Russa, the free agent fleeing of Albert Pujols, and the loss of Carpenter for most of the season and Lance Berkman for a good chunk of it, the Cardinals seem to find a way.
The Cardinals started Game 4 without Carlos Beltran, who has a strained left knee. Manager Mike Matheny shifted personnel, inserting rookie Matt Carpenter, who won Game 3 with a two-run homer in place of Beltran, at first base. Carpenter reached base three times Thursday night, while Allen Craig took Beltran’s spot in right field.
“We don’t look past the Giants tomorrow at all,’’ Matheny said. ’’I’ve been commending these guys for the fight they have. They just don’t go away. They have character. It’s in their nature.’’
Lincecum is a shadow of his once prominent self. He used to throw 96 miles per hour and is now at 92. If he makes a mistake, he’s not so extraordinary. He had the highest ERA (5.18) of qualified starters in the National League.
By the time the fifth inning rolled around, Giants manager Bruce Bochy came out to take the ball from his hand after the Cardinals seized a 4-1 lead.
Lincecum had pitched well this postseason in relief, unable to crack the starting rotation until Game 4. He was 1-0 with a 1.08 ERA in three outings and earned his start.
But he had difficulty with this pesky Cardinals’ lineup from the start.
Lincecum, who led the major leagues by allowing 28 first-inning runs, gave up a 2-0 lead in the first when the first three Cardinals batters reached. Jay singled, Carpenter walked, and Holliday singled home the first run. Craig’s sacrifice fly got the second run across.
The Giants cut the gap when Hunter Pence crushed a 451-foot homer to left field against Wainwright in the second.
Lincecum settled down, got out of a jam in the second, got the next six outs, but the fifth was his undoing.
With one out, the pesky Carpenter doubled to center and scored on Holliday’s single up the middle. Then Molina knocked in a run with a single and that was the end of Lincecum’s night, at 91 pitches.
Wainwright, who missed all of 2011 and the Cardinals’ World Series run because of Tommy John surgery, has rebounded. in a big way.
He had a great curveball and wasn’t going to be denied.
Wainwright helped himself with the bat in the sixth. He put down a sacrifice bunt to advance runners into scoring position after Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma had singled.
Jay delivered a two-run double off lefty reliever Jose Mijares to open the game up, 6-1. The Cardinals added two runs in the seventh and Pablo Sandoval hit a two-run homer in the ninth for the Giants, but it was far too late.
The Cardinals are on the brink of something special, but the Giants have responded from this position before.