Cardinals' offense comes to play in Game 4
ST. LOUIS -- Forget about that hunt-and-peck offense the Cardinals have been using to claw their way through the early moments of this postseason.
When Allen Craig finally beat out an infield single against the Giants on Thursday night, St. Louis' big bats had totally returned.
The Cards thrashed the Giants, 8-3, in the wind and cold of Busch Stadium and now need just one more win to land in their 19th World Series.
The Cardinals won 11 of those Fall Classics, including last year's. Only the Yankees, with 27, have more championships. But with the inconsistent offense that has plagued the Cards much of October, winning No. 12 will be difficult.
So what the 47,062 saw Thursday night was more than encouraging.
Even though tenacious St. Louis had disposed of Atlanta and Washington before facing the Giants in this National League Championship Series, its vaunted offense had become a concern -- especially the big bats in the middle of the order.
Key hits in crucial situations were few and far between. So were big innings. Craig, who batted .307 with 22 homers and 92 RBIs during the regular season, entered Game 4 hitless in the NLCS.
In fact, the meat of the batting order was 5-for-33 and had yet to drive in a run before Thursday's breakout.
But against the Giants in Game 4, the Cardinals romped to a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, Matt Holliday, Jon Jay and Yadier Molina each had two RBIs to lead a 12-hit attack. St. Louis was batting an anemic .198 through the first three games against San Francisco.
Holliday, who gave the Cards a 1-0 lead with an RBI single against Tim Lincecum in the first inning, white-lied when he said, "I don't think you're ever concerned."
He then added: "Obviously, you'd like to get those hits and stretch leads or get back in games. But like I said, you're facing the toughest pitchers in the league right now. It's a battle, it's a grind."
Even on Wednesday night, when St. Louis won Game 3, 3-1, it was a two-run homer by rookie Matt Carpenter that paved the way for the victory. And had the veteran Carlos Beltran not gone down after the first inning with a knee injury, Carpenter wouldn't have been in the game.
Put Thursday night's 12-hit attack -- three were doubles -- in perspective. Add to that the fact the Cards were 5-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
The Cardinals were the last of the five NL teams to make the postseason, the second Wild Card from their league.
To reach this stage, they had to dispose of Atlanta in the historic first Wild Card game, then stun Washington in the Division Series with an incredible ninth-inning rally in the decisive game. The Nationals incidentally had the best record in the Major Leagues this season.
And the Giants easily won the NL West.
Along come the 88-win Cards through the postseason's back door -- just like they did in 2011 -- and they're poised to return to the World Series. The thing about this team is it just finds a way to win.
Yet I don't think the true colors of this team have been on display during the postseason. Yes, they've managed to win, but the offense hasn't been as intimidating as it can be.
"Yeah, it was good that we broke through with some big hits in some RBI situations. That allowed us to stretch the lead and gave Adam [Wainwright] a little bit of a cushion," Holliday said.
"And then we were able to build on that lead as the game went on. It's never easy, particularly in the postseason, to get those runs home. Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come."
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, choosing his words carefully about the possibility of eliminating the Giants on Friday night, talked about Carpenter's contribution, how he works the count, as he did in the first inning before later scoring the second run.
"He shows some power at times and has the ability to draw walks," Matheny said. "And if you're drawing walks in front of a lineup, the middle of the lineup like ours, and Matt Holliday is starting to do what he does, it's a nice thing to have."
Which is what the Cards showed Thursday night.
Now, there's every reason to believe they'll continue in Friday night's possible clincher.
The Giants became the first NL team since the advent of the Division Series to come back after being down 0-2 and win.
San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said Thursday: "We've done it before. You've got to keep believing and hope."
The Cardinals, convinced they've finally regained their offensive prowess, said all the right things after Game 4.
"The Giants have proven they're a great team, and they did that with their backs against the wall against the Reds [in the NLDS]," said Holliday. "We're not taking the last game to get into the World Series for granted."
Matheny put it this way: "We know today is a big win, but we'll enjoy it a little bit and start focusing on tomorrow. We know what they are capable of doing, and we've got our guard up for that."
Matheny added something about staying aggressive "and trust that we can pull together and do what we need to do."
I have a hunch Thursday night might have been a warmup.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.