That was ugly. Much like they did in the last two games, the San Francisco Giants jumped on the Cardinals early and cruised to a victory. Tonight, runs in the first and second were the appetizer to a main course of a five-run third inning that ended the competitive phase of the contest, a 9-0 Giants victory that will send them to their second World Series in three years.
For the Cardinals, it symbolized the end of a championship reign that was large on heroics and gusto. Tonight, both were lacking. Kyle Lohse, who was largely brilliant in 2012, did not escape that fateful third and would up taking the loss, allowing five runs on six hits in two-plus innings. Allen Craig, David Freese and Matt Holliday all failed to get a hit. It was a sad reversal of fortune for a team that has thrived in money situations over the past two season.
And yes, I could not have been more wrong about tonight's outcome. I chose the Cardinals because of the pedigree, clutch play and recent big game history. To my limited credit, I did warn Cardinals Nation that if the Giants won Game 5, it could be 1996 all over again (i.e. losing a 3-1 lead after failing to clinch in a Game 5 at home). But obviously, if I felt the Giants would come back, I would have said so.
Perhaps, that is the biggest takeaway for me: The San Francisco Giants deserve all of the credit for this second straight three-game comeback in these playoffs. Over the last three games, they kicked St. Louis' collective you know what. Barry Zito, Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain did what Lance Lynn, Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse did not: Gave their team a chance to win.
To be negative at this point would be a little excessive though. The Cardinals surprised much of the baseball world by winning the most thrilling World Series since 2001. And in 2012, they defended their title with hard work, collective effort and some of that flair that brought them a title a year ago. It was a fantastic run by a team that was ultimately, just not quite good enough this year to return to the ultimate stage.
Let that not be what defines this team. In many ways, St. Louis overachieved again in 2012. Despite not having its ace Chris Carpenter until September, needing to break in a rookie manager and losing the team's biggest icon and greatest player since Stan Musial, this team was able to return to the postseason.
Facing yet another elimination game, the Cardinals proudly went into Atlanta and upended the Braves in a game that will be remembered for a bad call, but should be seen also as another example of this team's pride and big-game play.
Going up against the young and talented Nationals, they fell behind 6-0 in the deciding Game 5. In the face of a wild, success-hungry crowd and only having themselves to draw upon, the Cardinals staged maybe the best postseason comeback in 15 years, winning 9-7 with a four-run ninth inning. Against a clearly very good Giants team, they took a 3-1 lead by being a team that was always greater than the sum of its parts.
Sadly (for Cards fans), it simply was not enough this year. That said, don't lament over this defeat if you're a Cardinals fan. Credit the Giants and recognize that the run fell short. But what a run it was! Need proof? Ask a Royals fan.