Marcos Breton

David J. Phillip / Associated Press

David J. Phillip Associated Press Giants starter Matt Cain hangs his head as St. Louis injury replacement Matt Carpenter rounds the bases after hitting a two-run homer in the third inning.

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Marcos Breton: Giants are battling Red Bird magic

Published: Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013 - 7:45 pm

ST. LOUIS – I didn't get the whole St. Louis Cardinals October magic thing until I set foot in this place and felt it.

It doesn't fully translate on television and is too big for shallow baseball commentators to explain in rote sound bites.

But it's here. My goodness, it's here.

This is not only one of the great baseball towns in America. It's where people expect players in red uniforms to win just as America still yearns for America to win.

It's where the hope embodied in the St. Louis Gateway Arch still stands for American dynamism as it looms beyond the center field wall. Busch Stadium is a shrine punctuated by bronze statues of Cardinals since the 1920s who combined to win 11 World Series trophies, more than any other National League team.

From hotel bellmen to truck drivers and college professors, people don't just follow the Cardinals – they believe in them.

The Giants aren't simply coming up short against the Cardinals by beating themselves, as they did again amid a long rain delay on Wednesday.

They are losing to an idea of a team that didn't seem special for long stretches of the regular season, but is special now – as if the moment makes the Cardinals bigger.

If you believe that some wondrous things in baseball can't be explained – and I do – then you just have to shake your head in wonder at what is happening here.

Put aside that the Cardinals are halfway to a World Series after losing their greatest player to free agency in Albert Pujols. And their Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa retired – as did Dave Duncan, his longtime pitching coach.

Then the Cardinals didn't come close to either winning their division or nailing down the best second-place record in the National League.

And then, on Wednesday, Carlos Beltran – one of the great postseason hitters – left after one inning with a knee strain.

So what happens? The rookie who replaces Beltran in right field hits a two-run homer off Giants starter Matt Cain.

And that was it. That's all the Cardinals would need to win. Beltran leaving the game should have been advantage Giants, but became a plus for the Redbirds.

Explain the sabermetrics of that.

Yes, the Cardinals tacked on an insurance run in the seventh.

Yes, the Cardinals bullpen was again magnificent. Trevor Rosenthal, Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte didn't surrender a single hit after the Giants slapped starter Kyle Lohse around to no avail.

On Sunday, the Giants were rallying when Cardinal second baseman Daniel Descalso made a great play to stop them after having an otherwise forgettable regular season. That was the ballgame.

And on Wednesday, there was Matt Carpenter. Some might attach great significance to Carpenter coming into his third-inning at-bat against Cain after going four-for-four against him during the regular season.

On Wednesday, Cain made only one truly bad pitch – a slider intended to go down in that hung over the plate.

Carpenter crushed it.

The Cardinals led 2-1 in the bottom of the third after the Giants had gone up 1-0 in the top of the inning.

Said Carpenter of his success against Cain: "You know, there really is no explanation."

Said Cain: "It's the best I've felt in three postseason starts. I made a bad pitch and it cost us."

It wasn't that the Giants were down afterward. I would describe them as a bit dumbfounded over how this one slipped through their fingers while they left 11 men on base.

"There is not a lot to do," said Giants leadoff man, Angel Pagan, who stranded four runners Wednesday.

He'll look at tape of his at-bats, but there isn't much else to do.

The Giants now rely on Tim Lincecum, whose terrible season cost him a starting rotation spot he has now regained with excellent turns in the bullpen.

The Giants also announced that Barry Zito would be their Game 5 starter.

That's two idiosyncratic West Coast dudes against the Cardinals and their legends, ghosts and traditions – in a Midwestern cauldron of a stadium as passionate as there is in sports.

Sound like a fair fight?

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Marcos Breton

Marcos Breton, news columnist

Marcos Breton

Hello, my name is Marcos Breton and I'm the news columnist with The Sacramento Bee. What's a columnist supposed to do? I'm supposed to make you think, make you laugh, make you mad or make you see an issue in a different way. I'm supposed to connect the dots on issues, people and relationships that cause things to happen or prevent them from happening in our region. I also write a weekly baseball column during the baseball season. I am a voter in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Yes, I have voted for Barry Bonds - twice. I am a native of Northern California. I am the son of Mexican immigrants. I've been at The Bee for more than 20 years, and I love Sacramento.

Phone: 916-321-1096
Twitter: @MarcosBreton

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