SAN FRANCISCO (MCT) — The National League championship series isn’t going to be quick, or easy, or pretty.
The Cardinals probably didn’t need the reminder, but their Game 2 against the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday night at AT&T Park left little room for interpretation.
The Cardinals finished with one run, four hits, two errors and plenty left to contemplate.
Playing behind starting pitcher and enforcer Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals fell victim to a flurry of pitching and defensive mistakes within a 7-1 loss that leveled the series at a game each and perhaps placed it on slow simmer as well.
On this night imprecise command and a rash of odd fourth-inning plays prevented Carpenter from resembling his postseason reputation.
Instead of dominance, Carpenter offered four innings in which he threw more balls than strikes, allowed a home run to the first hitter he faced, was charged with an error and seemed displeased with the night in general.
The Giants received their first quality start in seven postseason games as Ryan Vogelsong held the Cardinals to the lone run, generated by Carpenter’s second-inning gap shot.
The series moves to Busch Stadium for the next three games but it remains to be seen whether the teams left behind the rub caused by left fielder Matt Holliday’s hard first-inning slide into Giants shortstop Marco Scutaro.
The slide left Scutaro down behind second base for several moments as a crowd of 42,679 made known its displeasure. Scutaro remained in the game for three at-bats and became a central figure in the fourth inning before leaving with what was described as a left hip injury.
After never trailing Sunday, the Cardinals never led in Game 2.
Giants center fielder Angel Pagan charged Carpenter’s fourth pitch for his second leadoff home run this postseason. It was a indicator of things to come as Carpenter never found an easy rhythm.
Tied entering the fourth inning, the Giants seized irrevocable control with a series of flares, curious defensive plays and Scutaro’s two-out, bases-clearing hit.
A 5-1 game took its final shape as the Giants overwhelmed rookie Shelby Miller for two eighth-inning runs. A leadoff walk and three singles chased Miller before he got a second out, though additional defensive problems factored.
The Cardinals reverted to their early September form on defense after playing crisply the last several weeks.
Absent was the collegiate enthusiasm that spilled over the dugout rail during Sunday’s 6-4 Cardinals win.
The Cardinals appeared in counterpunch mode, unable to generate a hit with runners in scoring position while trying to patch together another five innings from an increasingly stressed bullpen.
The Cardinals left runners in scoring position in four of the first five innings while failing to score any of three men who rattled Vogelsong with doubles.
The night’s most promising threat also became its most controversial after Carlos Beltran walked and Holliday singled with one out in the first inning.
First baseman Allen Craig bounced a ground ball to shortstop. Scutaro took the feed while keeping the bag between him and the churning Holliday, who appeared to launch himself over the base at Scutaro’s left leg.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy briefly argued for interference against Holliday but received no satisfaction.
The play was fresh enough for Pagan to salute the Cardinals dugout as he began his home run trot.
Vogelsong dodged the threat when he extended catcher Yadier Molina’s tough postseason with a ground ball. (Molina singled in the ninth to break a one-for-19 funk.)
The Cardinals have scored 41 runs in five playoff wins. They have scraped for 10 hits in their three losses.
The Giants badly needed an extended outing from their rotation and Vogelsong delivered.
Vogelsong, the NL earned-run average leader through Aug. 12, was good enough to construct a string of 16 consecutive quality starts early this season but entered Monday with only two outings of at least six innings among his last seven.
Monday he lasted seven innings before turning over a four-run lead to a bullpen that had thrown 5﻿1/3 hitless innings the previous night.
Vogelsong never faced the tying run at the plate after a fourth inning in which first baseman Brian Belt opened the surge with an opposite-field flare that dropped near the left-field line for a double.
The Giants then took advantage of the Cardinals’ defensive positioning when left fielder Gregor Blanco chopped a one-hopper over third baseman David Freese for a single to put runners at the corners.
Carpenter’s death by paper cuts continued when shortstop Brandon Crawford topped the ball between the mound and first base line. Carpenter fielded the ball but his momentum took him near the baseline. With Crawford running inside the line, Carpenter palmed a throw that Craig couldn’t handle.
Carpenter absorbed a tough error on a play that scored Belt for a 2-1 lead.
The Giants might have caught a break when Carpenter fielded Vogelsong’s two-strike, one-out bunt, which appeared ready to roll foul.
A walk of Pagan loaded the bases for what became the night’s pivot point.
Playing on a painful hip, Scutaro lined a single to left-center field that scored two runs without challenge.
Moving laterally, Holliday overran the ball as he appeared to hurry. His boot of Scutaro’s hit allowed Pagan to score from first base to complete the four-run rally and doomed Carpenter’s appearance with three unearned runs.
Holliday’s night deteriorated after the play. He failed to push a ball from the infield in his last three at-bats, and in addition to his error allowed an eighth-inning fly ball to drop untouched near the left field line.
The postseason loss was Carpenter’s first since Game 1 of a 2009 National League division series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Carpenter was 4-0 in six starts last postseason and was 10-2 in 16 postseason starts before Monday.
A rotation that had the lowest September ERA of the league’s last four tournament teams has now scraped for 10 innings total in its last three appearances. A bullpen that has served as the team’s pillar has worked 34 innings in eight games.