The revitalized St Louis Cardinals made full use of their bullpen to stave off a San Francisco Giants fightback for a 6-4 road victory in the opening game of the National League Championship Series on Sunday.
The defending World Series champions had rallied from a 6-0 deficit in a Game 5 decider against Washington on Friday, but this time their own six-run lead was threatened before they held on to draw first blood in the best-of-seven series.
St Louis called on six relievers, who combined for 5-1/3 scoreless innings to finish off a game that had looked to be slipping away when starter Lance Lynn allowed four runs in the bottom of the fourth.
“Those guys have been outstanding for us, hats off to the bullpen tonight,” St Louis infielder Daniel Descalso told reporters.
David Freese blasted a two-run homer in the second inning and Carlos Beltran added a two-run shot in the top of the fourth to sting an AT&T Park crowd that had cheered him on as one of their own just last season.
“I understand that they’re not going to root for me, but at the same time I’m here to win a championship,” Beltran said after blasting his 14th career playoff homer and his third this post-season. “It was a good day for me, [but] the reason why we’re here is because of our bullpen.”
The Giants roared back in the bottom of the fourth to chase Lynn from the game, stringing together four consecutive two-out hits, including Gregor Blanco’s two-run triple, to rally to within two runs.
The four-run salvo was all the home team could muster, though, as they were unable to make further inroads against the stingy St Louis relievers.
In a matchup between the past two World Series champions, Game 2 was scheduled for San Francisco last night, when the home team were sending Ryan Vogelsong to the mound against Chris Carpenter.
On Sunday, Edward Mujica struck out the side in the seventh and was credited with the win, while Jason Motte picked up the save in the ninth.
Lynn has been a member of the Cardinals’ formidable bullpen this post-season, but the 25-year-old returned to the starting rotation for the National League Championship Series opener.
In what has been a roller-coaster ride for the pitcher, Lynn reached the All-Star game following a strong first half, but was demoted to reliever in August, restored the next month, then put back in the bullpen to start the playoffs.
St Louis lost starter Jaime Garcia to injury during the National League Division Series, forcing them to dig deeper into their pitching roster.
San Francisco starter Madison Bumgarner lasted just 3-2/3 innings to lose his second straight start of the playoffs.
The Giants, too, got a great lift from their bullpen, which included five relievers teaming up to keep the visitors off the scoreboard, but the damage had already been done.