With big 4th inning and great relief work, Cardinals beat Giants in Game 1, 6-4

Christian Petersen - Getty Images

In the NLCS opener, both starting pitchers failed to survive the fourth inning, but the Cardinals did more damage before both teams' bullpens completely took over the game.

Sunday night in San Francisco, the St. Louis Cardinals topped the Giants 6-4 in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. The Cardinals, of course, are the defending National League and World's Champions, and now seem like a pretty good bet to retain one or both crowns.

Game 1 saw the continuance of two significant trends: Carlos Beltran's all-time postseason brilliance, and the Giants' starters new-found inability to do their fair share of the heavy lifting.

In the second inning, with young Madison Bumgarner on the mound for the Giants, David Freese walloped his first home run of the postseason, a two-run shot. Freese, of course, looked like Babe Ruth last October. But St. Louis was just getting started. In the fourth, Bumgarner got himself into another mess of trouble. After Freese led off with a fly-out, Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma unloaded consecutive doubles to make the score 3-0. After Kozma stole third base and Lance Lynn struck out, Jon Jay singled home Kozma.

Which brings us to Carlos Beltrán. He made it 6-0 with a two-run home run. Beltrán has now played in 29 postseason games, and hit 14 home runs. It might not be a terrible stretch to suggest that Beltrán, leaving aside particular situations and Adam Wainwright, might be the most accomplished postseason hitter we've ever seen. His chief competition? Fella named Babe Ruth.

Beltrán's homer knocked out Bumgarner, after which the Giants' bullpen performed brilliantly; the Cardinals would not score again, and in fact would collect not even a single hit against a quintet of San Francisco reliefers. But enough damage had been done. Somehow, in six postseason games not a single Giant starter has posted a Quality Start. Then again, the Giants' starting pitching isn't what it once was.

And the Cardinals' starting didn't fare a great deal better. Lance Lynn started for St. Louis, and held the Giants hitless in the first three innings. But he gave up five hits in the fourth, with four of them coming after two men were out. The third of those hits was Gregor Blanco's two-run triple; the fourth was Brandon Crawford's double that made the score 6-4. When Lynn then walked pinch-hitter Aubrey Huff, manager Mike Matheny had seen enough. He summoned Joe Kelly from the bullpen, and Kelly finally squelched the rally.

Fortunately for the Cardinals, their relief corps was nearly as good as the Giants'. Both squads racked up 5⅓ innings of relief. Where the Giant reliefers limited the Cardinals to one walk and zero hits, the Cardinal reliefers limited the Giants to two walks and two hits. And, most important, zero runs.

Jason Motte came on in the bottom of the ninth -- beard, fastball, and high socks blazing -- and immediately gave a long, long fly ball to Brandon Crawford that Jon Jay caught at the warning track in straightaway center field. Mott retired pinch-hitter Hector Sanchez on a much easier fly ball to left. But the Giants stayed alive when Angel Pagan drove a single past second baseman Descalso. Motte got ahead of Marco Scutaro, though, and Scutaro ultimately hit a hard grounder to Allen Craig at first base, who fumbled the ball but recovered in time for the game-ending flip to Motte.

Edward Mujica, who pitched the seventh for the Cardinals and struck out all three Giants he faced, earned the win because he was subjectively more effective than any other St. Louis reliefer.

These teams are back at it again Monday night at 8 p.m. Eastern, with Chris Carpenter starting for the Cardinals and Ryan Vogelsong for the Giants.

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