Monday October 13th, 2014

The Cardinals beat the Giants 5-4 on a walk-off home run by rookie Kolten Wong in the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday night to tie up the National League Championship Series at one game apiece. The series now heads to San Francisco for Game 3 with John Lackey set to start for St. Louis against the Giants' Tim Hudson Tuesday night.

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The Cardinals hit four solo home runs on their way to victory Sunday night, starting with a third-inning shot by the team’s hottest hitter, third baseman Matt Carpenter, off Giants starter Jake Peavy. It was Carpenter’s fourth home run of the postseason after having hit just eight in 709 plate appearances during the regular season. The Cardinals added a run in the bottom of the fourth on a bases-loaded single by rookie Randal Grichuk, but the Giants battled back to tie the game with a run in the third and another in the sixth before taking the lead in the top of the seventh. They plated the go-ahead run on a lead-off walk to Brandon Crawford from lefty specialist Randy Choate with a pair of singles off righty Carlos Martinez, one of them a broken-bat infield single by Michael Morse making his first appearance this postseason by pinch-hitting for Travis Ishikawa.

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The Cardinals answered with solo home runs by rookie Oscar Taveras, pinch-hitting for Martinez in the bottom of the seventh, and Matt Adams in the bottom of the eighth. The latter was the fourth home run Giants righty Hunter Strickland has allowed in as many innings this postseason. However, Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal couldn’t save the 4-3 lead in the top of the ninth. Rosenthal gave up two-out singles to Andrew Susac, pinch-hitting for Strickland, and Juan Perez. Then, with two outs and a full count on Giants second baseman Joe Panik, Rosenthal bounced a fastball in front of catcher Tony Cruz, in the game for the injured Yadier Molina, that allowed pinch-runner Matt Duffy to come all the way around from second base to score the tying run.

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Rosenthal walked Buster Posey after Panik to load the bases, but Seth Maness got Pablo Sandoval to tap back to the mound to end the threat. Wong then hit Sergio Romo’s second pitch in the bottom of the ninth into the St. Louis bullpen to give the Cardinals the win. The shot is Wong’s second tie-breaking game-winner of this postseason. His two-run shot off Scott Elbert in the seventh inning of Game 3 of the Division Series proved to be the winning blow in that game as well.

This was a crucial win for St. Louis, but it came with a loss of its own. Molina came out of the game with a strained left oblique after grounding into a 4-6-3 double play in the bottom of the sixth inning. Molina didn’t even run to first on the play. After completing his swing, Molina took one step then dropped his bat and bent over with his hands on his knees until being walked off the field by the trainer and manager Mike Matheny. Cruz replaced him in the top of the seventh.

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Molina has hit just .263/.298/.311 since returning at the end of August from surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb, including a 5-for-21 (.238) performance thus far in the postseason. By way of comparison, backups Cruz and A.J. Pierzynski, the latter signed during Molina’s absence due to the thumb injury and just added to the Cardinals playoff roster for the NLCS, combined to hit .220/.274/.322 in 266 plate appearances this season.

However, even if Molina’s bat wasn’t going to come around, his contributions behind the plate, with his arm, his pitch framing and his handling of pitchers and overall on-field leadership, remain significant. There has been no word yet as to the severity of the injury. If the Cardinals decide that Molina will be unable to return for the remainder of the postseason, they can replace him on the NLCS roster, but in doing so would render him ineligible for the World Series should St. Louis advance. That’s a major loss for the Cardinals, regardless of how little Molina had been hitting.

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