ST. LOUIS -- They've been here before. That's what they would say in the quiet moments after their 8-3 loss to the Cardinals in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, a loss that left the NL West champs down 3-1 in the series, on the brink of elimination.
"We've had our backs against the wall before," Angel Pagan, standing in front of his locker, said.
"This is a familiar situation for us," said Tim Lincecum, facing a horde of cameras and reporters.
"We've been in this position," said the manager, Bruce Bochy. "We know it's an uphill battle. But we've been here before."
Yes, it's true, just last week, the Giants were down 0-2 in the Division Series before winning three straight on the road to shock the Reds. Yes, it's true, if Barry Zito's curveball is working Friday night and the Cy Young winner can pitch deep into Game 5, if the Giants' struggling bats suddenly awaken (after going 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position on Thursday, Giants hitters are now 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position over the last two games), if San Francisco can find a way to beat Lance Lynn and the Cardinals, they'll return to AT&T Park this weekend needing just two wins to reach the World Series.
But asking for another October miracle from the Giants may be asking too much. San Francisco is up against history: 33 series since 1985 in both the AL and NL have gone to 3-1, and of the 33 teams to take a 3-1 lead, 27 have gone on to the World Series (82.0 percent).
And they're up against a team that's now firing on all cylinders, and simply looks like the better team in the series. The Cardinals won 88 games in the regular season, they survived the one-game wild card playoff, they pulled off a miracle win over the Nats in Game 5 of the Division Series. They're fortunate to be here, one win from a chance to meet the Tigers and defend their World Series title -- but don't call these Cardinals a fluke. Mike Matheny's club is playing like a juggernaut, and in Game 4 they rolled over the Giants with ease. No Beltran? No problem. On Thursday the Cardinals scored eight runs for the fourth time this postseason.
Even the Giants acknowledge that the Cardinals have some kind of October magic working. "They do have something going," Bochy said after Game 4. "There's no getting around that." He added, "To do what they did last year, that was amazing.... win the World Series, after being one pitch away from losing a couple times, and what they did [this year] in Washington."
Played under gray skies, and in a rocking, packed Busch Stadium, Game 4 was supposed to be about the Freak. But it was clear early in Tim Lincecum's first start since Sept. 30, that the pitcher who had rediscovered his mojo as a reliever this October didn't have his best stuff on this night. The two-time Cy Young winner gave up a single to John Jay to start the game, then walked Matt Carpenter before Matt Holliday singled on a ground ball to centerfield to score the game's first run. Allen Craig hit a sac fly to center, and just like that, the Cardinals were up 2-0.
For a few innings, Lincecum settled into a rhythm -- pitching out of the stretch, Lincecum's fastball topped out at 92 mph, and at one point he retired eight hitters in a row. But in the fifth, RBI singles by Holliday and Yadier Molina stretched the Cardinals' lead to 4-1, and with those two hits, Lincecum was on his way out of the game, looking very much like the pitcher that struggled badly through the summer. Said Bochy, "He gave us all he had out there."
The story of Game 4 was the other starter, Adam Wainwright, who bounced back from his dismal performance in Game 5 of the Division Series, and had his magical curveball working against the helpless Giants hitters. Wainwright threw 96 pitches -- 70 strikes -- and allowed one run in an efficient seven innings. In the second, there was Hunter Pence, who called himself "the goat" of Game 3, putting the Giants on the board with a monster 451-foot home run on a 90-mph sinker from Wainwright that didn't sink -- but that was Wainwright's only mistake of the game. The right-hander earned his first career postseason win as a starter, and has now allowed just one run in three of his four career postseason starts, and owns a career postseason ERA of 2.48 in 32 2/3 innings. "He kept us off-balance," said Pagan. "Tonight he had a good curveball and a good cutter -- 93 mph with good movement. That's the Adam Wainwright I know."
"A little part of me wanted to reprove it to myself that I could go out there and pitch great when we needed me to," Wainwright said. "I knew I could. I was very confident in my ability, and my stuff."
St. Louis can close things out Friday night when they face Zito, who struggled badly nine days ago against the Reds and will need to solve a Cardinals' lineup stacked with dangerous right-handed hitters. With Wainwright looking like a postseason ace, with the offense humming even without Beltran, the Cardinals strut into Game 5 looking like an October power, headed toward a rematch of the 2006 World Series.
The Giants? They can, at least, cling to this: they've been here before.