Down to their last strike, the Giants refused to go quietly. But St. Louis’ Kolten Wong came back with the loudest swing of all.
After the Giants rallied against Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal to tie the score in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series in the top of the ninth, Wong hit the second pitch by Sergio Romo in the bottom of the inning into the right-field seats for a walk-off home run.
It was the fourth home run of the game for the Cardinals, who won 5-4 to earn a split in the first two games of the series. The Giants lost for just the 12th time in 14 postseason games and had a seven-game road winning streak in the playoffs snapped. Their last postseason road loss also had come at Busch Stadium, in Game 4 of the 2012 NLCS.
After the Cardinals took the lead in the eighth inning on a Matt Adams home run off Hunter Strickland, the Giants mounted an improbable rally in the ninth against Rosenthal.
Pinch hitter Andrew Susac, a rookie and Jesuit High School graduate, singled with one out. Juan Perez, who had entered as a defensive replacement, chopped a single up the middle to send Matt Duffy, running for Susac, to second. Gregor Blanco lined out, bringing up rookie Joe Panik.
With Rosenthal’s pitches reaching 100 mph on the stadium radar gun, Panik worked a walk on the sixth pitch of the at-bat – a fastball that bounced in the dirt and away from catcher Tony Cruz. On the full count, both runners were already in motion, and Duffy did not stop while rounding third, sliding across home with the tying run ahead of Cruz’s throw .
The turn of events stunned the Busch Stadium crowd, which had erupted in the eighth when Adams hit a 97-mph fastball from Strickland into the right-field seats to give St. Louis a 4-3 lead. Rosenthal walked Buster Posey to load the bases, but the Cardinals escaped the inning when Seth Maness entered and got Pablo Sandoval to ground out on a comebacker.
The Cardinals won the game but may have lost their most important player. On a sixth-inning swing that resulted in a double play, Cardinals catcher and leader Yadier Molina did not leave the plate area, instead bending over in pain and leaving the field accompanied by a trainer.
The Cardinals announced Molina suffered an abdominal strain, and now the question is Molina’s availability for the rest of the series. Giants outfielder Michael Morse missed more than a month at the end of the season because of the same injury.
Discussing Molina before the series, St. Louis third baseman Matt Carpenter had said: “I’m sure everybody in the room would like to feel like their role is irreplaceable, but he might be the one guy that that really, truly hits home with.
“If you lose a guy like him, the whole dynamic of this team changes.”
The Giants broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh, with Morse playing a role. With Brandon Crawford on second base after a walk and wild pitch, Morse reached on an infield single off reliever Carlos Martinez. Pinch hitter Perez moved both runners up with a bunt, and Blanco yanked a grounder past a pulled-in infield to score Crawford.
It left Morse on third with one out, but Panik and Buster Posey flew out to strand him there – a missed opportunity that proved costly when pinch hitter Oscar Taveras, a rookie, lined Jean Machi’s 2-1 pitch just inside the right-field foul pole in the bottom of the inning to tie the score again.
Both teams were well into their bullpens by that point, with Giants starter Jake Peavy out after four innings and Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn departing in the sixth.
On Saturday, Peavy had said that in preparing to face the Cardinals he’d already “seen more (Matt) Carpenter at-bats than I probably want to see.” If so, Carpenter’s at-bat in the third inning probably looked familiar. The Cardinals third baseman hit a 1-1 pitch from Peavy into the St. Louis bullpen in right-center field to break a scoreless tie. It was the fourth home run this postseason for Carpenter, who had eight in the regular season.
Neither starter found the early going easy. Peavy threw 38 pitches through the first two innings, and the Giants made Lynn throw 43. But the Giants didn’t capitalize on one-out baserunners in each of the first three innings, and the Cardinals got to Peavy again in the fourth.
Adams drew a leadoff walk, Jhonny Peralta singled, and after Molina bunted them over, the Giants walked Wong intentionally to load the bases for Randal Grichuk, the No. 8 hitter. Grichuk, who in the first inning had robbed Posey of extra bases with a sliding catch on the warning track in right-center, lined a singleto left to score Adams.
Peavy retired Lynn on a flyout, and Giants manager Bruce Bochy opted to let Peavy face Carpenter with the bases loaded and two outs. Peavy fell behind 2-0 but got Carpenter to fly out to Blanco in shallow center to keep the score 2-0.
It would be Peavy’s last batter. Brandon Belt singled leading off the fifth and took third when Travis Ishikawa hit a sinking liner to left-center that Jon Jay nearly caught on a dive but that popped out of his glove for a double. With Peavy’s spot due up, Bochy sent up pinch hitter Joaquin Arias, whose broken-bat groundout scored Belt. But Lynn threw a fastball by a swinging Blanco to end the inning.
It was the fourth time in his seven career postseason starts that Peavy has not completed five innings, but the Giants got him off the hook in the sixth. Sandoval hit a slicing liner down the left-field line that eluded Matt Holliday’s dive and bounced into the stands for a ground-rule double, and Hunter Pence lined a full-count fastball from Lynn back up the middle for a single to tie the score.
For Pence, it was his first RBI of these playoffs after he drove in 74 during the regular season. It also knocked Lynn out of the game at 98 pitches. Lynn fared better than in his previous meetings with the Giants – he was knocked out of both his NLCS starts in the fourth inning in 2012 and has a 7.98 career ERA against them in the regular season – but gave way to Randy Choate, who struck out Belt to end the sixth.