For the second game in a row, the San Francisco Giants warded off elimination in the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals and for the second time in a row it wasn’t close. The Giants, back in front of a wild home crowd, jumped Chris Carpenter for five runs in the first two innings, then starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong took over from there. Vogelsong worked seven strong innings, won his second game of the series 6-1 and put himself atop the list of candidates for NCLS MVP if his team can close it in Game 7 tonight.
Throughout his career, Carpenter has been a gamer in these kinds of spots—he won winner-take-all games against the Phillies and Rangers in last year’s postseason, and then threw 5.2 IP of shutout ball against the Nationals in Game 3 of the Division Series. But the Giants have had his number two times in this NLCS.
Pablo Sandoval had two hits, including a big double in the first inning that set up an early run. Marco Scutaro—not a bad MVP candidate himself—had a two-hit night that included scoring the game’s first run and a two-run double that broke it open an inning later.
Now we move on to Game 7. Of the six full series (not including wild-card games), this is the fifth decisive game we’ve had. It’s ironic that after going through years of starving for such games, the season baseball implements the wild-card night and ensures itself two winner-take-all games, suddenly all these series go the distance.
Both teams send their aces to the mound, with Frisco giving the ball to Matt Cain, while Kyle Lohse goes for the Cardinals. Both teams have their bullpens reasonably rested—St. Louis manager Mike Matheny wisely ignored the advice of Fox analyst Tim McCarver to pull Carpenter too quickly and instead squeezed two extra innings that could prove vital tonight. Both teams have successful playoff experience under their belt—these are, after all, the last two World Series champs.
What the Giants have is homefield and momentum, and for that reason they are slotted as the favorite to win tonight, at (-135) on the Las Vegas moneyline, meaning you need to bet $135 to turn a $100 profit if you take the Giants.
Every Game 7 has its own unique facets—from pitching matchups, to individual hitter-pitcher histories. But for the time being, let’s just focus on homefield and momentum and run through the eight previous NLCS Game 7s to see if they show any kind of pattern…
1987: Ironically, the first Game 7 was Giants-Cardinals. St. Louis won this one with homefield and were also the team that had won Game 6 to force it. Score one for homefield and momentum.
1988: The Dodgers beat the Mets behind Orel Hershiser on their homefield, though it was the Mets who won Game 6. A split decision and even the homefield has to be considered almost insignificant in light of how dominant Hershiser was that autumn. They could have played the game in New York, with the Mets being allowed 12 times to hit, the Dodgers nine and Orel probably still wins it.
1991: Atlanta beat Pittsburgh on the road two straight times. Score one for momentum, not for homefield.
1992: It was again Atlanta over Pittsburgh, this time the reverse. The Braves had homefield, but the Pirates had won the two previous games becoming the first NL team to be down 3-1 and force a seventh game. This, by the way, was also one of the greatest baseball games ever played, with Atlanta winning it on a two-out, bases-loaded hit, down by a run and Barry Bonds was unable to throw out slow-footed Sid Bream from second in spite of the fact Bonds was playing shallow.
1996: St. Louis knows what it’s like to be on the wrong side of momentum. They lost this one to Atlanta on the road after holding a 3-1 series lead, and the Braves then destroyed them in two of the three remaining games, including the finale.
2003: Florida had momentum and it trumped the homefield advantage the Cubs enjoyed at Wrigley Field, with their Game 6 rally being remembered for a fan not allowing an outfielder to catch a ball that drifted in the first row. This fan has taken far too much grief, so we won’t use his name even if it has become a punch line.
2004: Score one for momentum and homefield. St. Louis comes home and beats Houston two straight in Games 6 & 7.
2006: Another situation a lot like this year’s. St. Louis had lost Game 6 on the road to the New York Mets, but win the seventh game in extra innings. It was another epic game, with Yadier Molina hitting a home run. Then, ironically, it was Carlos Beltran, then with the Mets, striking out with the bases loaded to end the game.
You can see from this history that St. Louis is no stranger to this situation. The home-field teams are 5-3, while the teams that won Game 6 have also won five of eight. The only situation where a road team not only won, but reversed momentum was 2006. At least Yadier Molina knows it can be done.