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Giants sink Cardinals on walk-off bunt, error in 10th to grab NLCS lead

Three thoughts from the Giants’ 5-4 win over the Cardinals in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, giving San Francisco a 2-games-to-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

1. Nineteen games into this postseason, 12 of them have been decided by one run and six in extra innings. Two of each have been in this NLCS. With a series that projected to be, and has been, so close, it was fitting that it would take a mistake to settle things. Cardinals reliever Randy Choate entered in the 10th inning and didn’t record an out, walking Brandon Crawford despite having the platoon advantage in a matchup of lefties. Then, Juan Perez singled to leftfield to put runners at first and second. Gregor Blanco, attempting to advance the runners, laid down a sacrifice bunt which Choate pounced on, but he threw wide of first and down the rightfield line, allowing Crawford to come home with the winning run.

It was just the second error of the series, both by the Cardinals, but it wound up being the difference in the second consecutive game of this NLCS that was decided by one run and ended in a walk-off. Kolten Wong was the hero of Game 2 with his walk-off home run in the ninth but he couldn’t prevent Choate from being the Game 3 goat, as the throw was beyond Wong’s lunging effort.

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2. Before the game, the narrative about Tuesday's starters was that both had much in common as veteran righthanded starters with plenty of postseason experience. It was perhaps appropriate, then, that while they had very different paths through their afternoon, both Tim Hudson and John Lackey left the game right where they found it, and with nearly identical pitching lines. Hudson, 39, was making his 12th October start (his first after the Division Series) and looked like he might go the distance. Lackey, 35, was making his 18th career postseason start and looked like he'd be out after one inning. In the end, Hudson lasted 6 1/3 innings, surrendering four earned runs and seven hits without a walk and striking out five. Lackey also allowed four earned runs in his six innings, while also giving up five hits while walking one and striking out three.

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Three games into this series, only one starting pitcher, San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner in Game 1, has made a quality start. St. Louis' three starters — Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and Lackey — have combined to give up 17 hits and nine runs (eight earned) in just 16 1/3 innings for a 4.40 ERA. And with Jake Peavy's abbreviated and unspectacular outing in Game 2 for the Giants (four innings, four hits, two runs, three walks, two strikeouts) preceding Hudson's soon-to-be-forgotten Game 3 outing, the Giants can't claim to have gotten much more out of their starters.

Lackey was in immediate trouble, giving up four runs in the first inning thanks mostly to a Travis Ishikawa bases-loaded double. But he settled down after that and allowed just two baserunners (a single by Hudson and an HBP to Sandoval) over the next five frames.

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Hudson took the opposite road. He cruised through the first three innings, allowing only Kolten Wong's two-out, second-inning double the first time through the lineup. But he gave back two runs in the fourth when Wong tripled off the rightfield wall and another in the sixth, and he left after giving up Randal Grichuk's solo home run with one out in the seventh.

Should this series go the distance, as the NLCS between these two teams did two years ago, Hudson and Lackey will be scheduled to face one another yet again. Of course, if any team's starters can string together the kind of performances that Bumgarner provided the Giants in Game 1, when he tossed 7 2/3 shutout innings, it may not get that far.

3. Of all the holdovers from the Giants’ 2010 World Series-winning team — among them Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, Tim Lincecum and Sergio Romo — perhaps the most overlooked is Ishikawa. That may have something to do with the fact that he took a lengthy detour between stints in San Francisco, spending time with the Brewers, Orioles (six games), Yankees (one game) and Pirates before winding up back with the Giants last April.

It is likely also due to the fact he was a bit player at best during the team’s run to its first championship since moving to San Francisco. He played 10 games that postseason but made just one start and went 2-for-10 in the postseason.

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Tuesday, however, Ishikawa delivered the first big hit of the day, a three-run first-inning double that turned a 1-0 game into a 4-0 one, though Hudson couldn't preserve it.

The Giants’ rally started with two-out singles from Posey and Sandoval. Hunter Pence followed with an RBI double that moved Sandoval to third, and St. Louis elected to intentionally walk Brandon Belt to get to another lefty in Ishikawa, who had made just 129 plate appearances all year and had never faced Lackey. He responded by smashing a ball off the wall that bounced away from Cardinals rightfielder Grichuk and scored all three runners. It was Ishikawa’s second double of the series after he hit just three in 47 games since coming over to San Francisco.

Ishikawa has been playing leftfield exclusively in this postseason (he made a fine running catch in the top of the seventh), a position he took up for the first time in late September and had never before played in the major leagues, where he was mostly a first baseman. But with Belt having that position locked down, Ishikawa has had to find other ways to get in the lineup and contribute, something he certainly did in Game 3.