The weather in San Francisco cooperated just enough on Monday night as the Giants and St. Louis Cardinals set out to decide the National League pennant in a seventh and deciding game of the 2012 NLCS.
The matchup of the last two World Series winners promised to be a battle, with ace Matt Cain on the hill for the Giants facing 16-game winner Kyle Lohse for the Cardinals.
Cain came out on top in this matchup, as the Giants backed him with a 14-hit attack on their way to a convincing 9-0 win and a second National League pennant in three seasons.
As Giants fans celebrate on this special evening, we'll take the time to attach grades to the efforts of each component for each team in Game 7.
San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Matt Cain didn't bring perfect game stuff with him in Game 7, but what he brought was good enough.
Cain worked out of a jam early, getting opposing pitcher Kyle Lohse to line out to shortstop Brandon Crawford with runners on second and third in the top of the second.
Cain helped himself out at the plate as well, grounding a ball up the middle in the bottom of the frame to score Gregor Blanco with the Giants' second run of the game.
Cain worked into the sixth inning, striking out David Freese with his 102nd pitch of the game before giving way to reliever Jeremy Affeldt.
Given the Giants' opportunistic offense in the first three innings, Cain was given a nice cushion to work with—and work he did, holding the Cardinals to just five hits with one walk and four strikeouts.
There's a reason Cain is now the ace for the Giants. He simply delivers.
It seemed like the Giants had a pretty transparent plan against Kyle Lohse—work the count and drive up the pitch count.
It worked in the first two innings, as Lohse labored through 38 pitches, giving up two runs in the process.
The third inning was the downfall for Lohse. After giving up a leadoff single to the sizzling Marco Scutaro, Pablo Sandoval doubled to left field, putting runners at second and third with no one out.
After a six-pitch walk to catcher Buster Posey, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny had seen enough. Lohse's night was through, as he was replaced by reliever Joe Kelly.
Kelly allowed all inherited runs to score, meaning Lohse allowed five runs on six hits in two-plus innings. Not the effort the Cardinals needed on this night.
Manager Bruce Bochy went with the same exact lineup once again in Game 7. When things are working right, there's no reason to change things up.
That lineup again proved to be pesky, scoring single runs in both the first and second innings. The plan appeared to be to try to wear down Cardinals starting pitcher Kyle Lohse by seeing pitches and working up the pitch count.
For much of this series, the offense was set up by the hot-hitting Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval, and that recipe certainly didn't change Monday night. Scutaro's 3-for-4 night paced the Giants attack. Every starter had at least one hit, including an RBI single by starting pitcher Matt Cain.
This was a complete effort for sure, but the top of the lineup once again set the table, with Angel Pagan, Scutaro and Sandoval combining for six hits.
The Giants once again proved that the almighty home run doesn't have to an integral part of their offense, although Brandon Belt's homer in the bottom of the eighth inning provided the ninth and final run of the night.
The Cardinals had their chances against Matt Cain early on, but they stranded three runners in scoring position through the first three innings.
Missed opportunities early on can haunt a team, and the Cards could be thinking about those missed opportunities all winter long.
The wind clearly seemed to be taken out of the sails for the Cardinals with the Giants' five-run third inning. The frustration on the faces of St. Louis hitters was clearly visible, as they continued to squander opportunities throughout the night.
Consider this very simple statistic—the Cardinals were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position through the first eight innings.
That is a recipe for failure.
The one plus on the night for St. Louis was the effort of catcher Yadier Molina. Molina was 4-for-4, but was also left stranded four times as well.
With the tremendous efforts of both Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong in Games 5 and 6, Bruce Bochy had a rested and fresh bullpen at his disposal for Game 7.
Matt Cain turned in another scoreless performance, working into the sixth inning before giving way to reliever Jeremy Affeldt.
Just like on Sunday night in Game 6, the Giants 'pen again delivered with 3.1 innings of scoreless relief. Affeldt, Santiago Casilla, Javy Lopez and Sergio Romo combined to support Cain and lift the Giants to their second World Series appearance in three seasons.
The St. Louis bullpen was excellent in relief of starter Chris Carpenter in Game 6, holding the Giants offense to just one run in four innings.
It was predicted it would be called again early due to early struggles by starter Kyle Lohse in Game 7, and that's exactly what transpired, as Mike Matheny was forced to use Joe Kelly after Lohse loaded the bases with no one out in the third.
Kelly promptly allowed all three inherited runners to score on a double by Hunter Pence and was hurt by an error from center fielder John Jay. Kelly then poured more fuel on the fire by reloading the bases himself. Again, not a recipe for success when the bullpen can't stem the tide.
While the game appeared to be a lost cause for the Cardinals, they have to be encouraged by the efforts of young Trevor Rosenthal. Rosenthal struck out the side in a dominating fifth inning.
Matheny trotted out six relievers in an effort to at least keep the game close. However, four runs in six innings of work simply wasn't going to cut it.
Bruce Bochy has a rested bench as well as a rested bullpen, and his charges again were not much of a factor in the series decider. They didn't need to be.
Aubrey Huff grounded into a double play in the seventh inning that produced the Giants' eighth run of the night, while Joaquin Arias entered the game as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning.
Again, not much needed, which is good news for the Giants.
Mike Matheny was again forced to use his bench early, courtesy of another rough outing by one of his starting pitchers.
The bench didn't deliver, either, going 0-for-4 in pinch-hit appearances.
However, by the time the bench was utilized, the game was already out of reach.
San Francisco clearly fed off the energy of Game 5 and 6 starters Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong. That energy was apparent from the first pitch of Game 7 through to the end.
Make no mistake about it: this was a complete team effort. An offense that capitalized early and often, keeping the pressure through the later innings and collecting 14 hits along the way.
Matt Cain wasn't perfect, but he didn't need to be. A five-hit effort over 5.2 innings was certainly good enough on this night, as the bullpen chipped in with 3.1 innings of scoreless relief as well.
A complete team effort on two consecutive nights at AT&T Park was what the Giants needed, and they delivered on both nights.
The St. Louis Cardinals are going to have all winter long to figure out this series collapse.
Kyle Lohse, possibly pitching his last game in a Cardinals uniform, could leave St. Louis with a sour taste in his mouth after giving up five runs on six hits in two-plus innings.
The Cardinals bullpen was solid all postseason long. But on this night, it gave up four runs in six innings of work, failing to keep the game even within striking distance.
And the offense will be lamenting the lost opportunities for the entire winter. A complete inability to hit with runners in scoring position will be part of its nightmares over the coming months.
The Cardinals will now have to regroup, knowing that victory was in their grasp but allowed it to slip away with poor hitting, shoddy defense and suspect pitching.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.