SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants sure are tough to eliminate this postseason.
Barry Zito and the Giants gave themself at least one more game in the NL championship series with a 5-0 victory Friday in St. Louis that forced today’s Game 6 back at San Francisco’s AT&T Park. Just where the NL West winners want to be with their season on the line.
“It’s great to be back in San Francisco. There is no tomorrow,” Giants right fielder Hunter Pence said. “It’s a unique feeling. It has brought the best out of us.”
The wild-card Cardinals traveled out West again for a trip they certainly hoped they wouldn’t have to make. Defending champion St. Louis leads the best-of-seven series 3-2, needing one more win to return to the World Series.
The Cardinals know how hard winning the last one can be considering what this Giants team already did during these playoffs: winning three straight on the road at Cincinnati in the division series after falling behind 2-0.
Game 2 winner Ryan Vogelsong starts for the Giants for the second time this series against Chris Carpenter, who lost that matchup at AT&T Park last Monday.
“No question, we want to win it as soon as we can. We wanted to do it last night,” Carpenter said Saturday. “But, again, we have to get one win before they get two. We’ll do whatever we can. If it’s not tomorrow night we’ll come in and do it again.”
While the Cardinals regulars all took the day off — Carpenter and a couple of pitchers played catch — Pence and most of his team showed up at the ballpark in late afternoon to work even though manager Bruce Bochy gave his players a break completely.
The Giants have to like their chances to push the series to a decisive Game 7 with Vogelsong on the mound.
Vogelsong became the first Giants starter to make it through six innings this postseason when he went seven strong innings in a 7-1 Game 2 victory. He allowed four hits and one run for his first career postseason win.
“We all kind of feel like we’ve been in this situation before with Cincinnati,” Vogelsong said. “And it’s not over until the last out. I think both teams that are playing right now have proved that in the first round.”
Giants general manager Brian Sabean said he wasn’t surprised to see his team on the field Saturday for an optional practice — realizing they didn’t want to lose any momentum from the night before.
“Sometimes you wonder how much at this stage that there is a home-field advantage,” Sabean said. “In some cases, because of the bullpens, it’s probably as much as whoever gets the lead and can hold off the other ballclub from scoring will win the ballgame. We know what’s at stake. We know that they’re going to put a game against us. I’m sure Vogey will be ready.”
St. Louis postseason ace Carpenter sure is looking forward to another chance, too.
He has been plenty reliable this time of year for the Cardinals, with his 10 victories the most in franchise history. His stuff never felt right the last time out against the Giants, when he allowed two earned runs, five in all, and six hits in four innings.
The 37-year-old Carpenter pitched two postseason clinchers last fall and went 4-0. He won the division series clincher and did it again in the decisive Game 7 of the World Series against the Texas Rangers.
So, why not add that NLCS distinction to his impressive October resume?
It’s already been a memorable month for Carpenter, who came back to make three starts — throwing just 17 innings — late in the regular season after undergoing a complicated operation this summer that removed a rib and two neck muscles to relieve numbness on his right side.
He is counting on commanding his fastball better this time out. His postseason ERA in two outings this year is still an impressive 1.86.
“The last time out my stuff went backwards a little bit,” Carpenter said. “I was trying everything I could to get outs but unfortunately it didn’t work. I had some nice work in between that start and this start, I feel good and I’m looking forward to getting back out there.”
The Giants flew home overnight, landing at 2:30 a.m., but the Cardinals still had to go home after Friday’s game and pack their bags. They slept in their own beds and took off from St. Louis at midday Central time.
San Francisco, which made an improbable run to the 2010 World Series title, still has a chance to win two games here and go for another championship — after the Giants defeated the Cardinals at home in the 2002 NLCS.
The Detroit Tigers are waiting on their opponent.