San Francisco Giants' Brandon Belt hits a triple off of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter during the second inning of Game 6 of baseball's National League championship series Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Ryan Vogelsong and these San Francisco Giants sure have become adept at saving their season.
Now, they need to do it once more against the comeback champs.
Vogelsong struck out a career-best nine in another postseason gem and on his biggest stage yet, and San Francisco staved off elimination for the second straight game, pushing St. Louis to a winner-take-all Game 7 in the NL championship series with a 6-1 victory Sunday night.
"There are two teams in the same boat right now. You'll see two teams go out and give it everything they've got," Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt said. "This is what we play all year for and we'll put it all on the line. This is Game 7. There's only one better Game 7. They are no more what-if scenarios."
Turns out the defending champion Cardinals aren't the only team tough to put away in October.
Marco Scutaro delivered a two-run double and Buster Posey drove in his first run of the series with a groundout in the first inning as San Francisco struck early to support Vogelsong.
San Francisco's Matt Cain and St. Louis' Kyle Lohse are set to pitch in a rematch of Game 3, won by the Cardinals. There's a forecast of rain in the Bay Area during the day.
"It's time to get it done," Lohse said.
These wild-card Cardinals sure seem to like the all-or-nothing route in October, while San Francisco thrives playing from behind.
"Clutch performances are just guys playing normally in big spots. You can't be petrified by the situation, and neither of these teams have been," St. Louis' Lance Berkman said. "One of the things that makes Game 7's so interesting is that I don't think either of these teams is going to choke it away."
Five games with their year on the line, five wins for these gutsy Giants this postseason. Now, it comes down to one game for the past two World Series champions to return, with the Detroit Tigers waiting.
Pitching to chants of "Vogey! Vogey!" from the sellout crowd of 43,070 at AT&T Park, the right-hander didn't allow a hit until Daniel Descalso's broken-bat single to center with two outs in the fifth. Vogelsong struck out the side in the first and had already fanned five through two innings.
"This place is going to be loud, I can tell you that," Vogelsong said of Monday night.
Scutaro had no chance for a collision with Matt Holliday this time. In their first game back at AT&T Park since Holliday took out the second baseman with a hard slide in Game 2, Holliday was scratched about an hour before first pitch because of tightness in his lower back, and Allen Craig replaced him in left field.
It hardly mattered the way Vogelsong pitched.
The Cardinals managed their only run on Craig's two-out single in the sixth. St. Louis had gone 15 innings without scoring after left-hander Barry Zito won 5-0 on Friday in Game 5.
"I just tried to do really the same thing he did, come out and set the tone early for us," Vogelsong said.
Vogelsong had his second stellar seven-inning outing against the Cardinals in a week, allowing four hits and one run. He walked one in a 102-pitch performance and lowered his postseason ERA — all this year — to 1.42.
The 35-year-old Vogelsong toiled through the minors, Japan and even winter ball to finally pitch under the October spotlight for a chance at the World Series. His latest impressive outing put the Giants one win away.
"I just believe that it's my time," Vogelsong said.
After taking a 3-1 lead back home at Busch Stadium, Mike Matheny's Cardinals will have to find some offense in a hurry if they want to get back to the World Series.
"We've got to make some adjustments but our team's done that all season," Matheny said. "One thing I know is these guys take these to heart."
These Cards might just prefer close calls. Just like last year.
They won the NL's second wild card on the second-to-last day of the regular season, then won at Atlanta to reach the division series. The Cardinals rallied from a 6-0 deficit with a four-run ninth inning to stun the Washington Nationals 9-7 in Game 5 of the division series.
The Giants got to St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter again. The Cardinals winningest postseason pitcher with 10 victories looked out of sync for the second straight start — and he left with a nearly identical line as in his 7-1 Game 2 loss here last Monday, down to the hits, earned runs, unearned runs and innings.
Carpenter was done in by one big inning this time, too. He allowed six hits and five runs, two earned, in four innings.
"The bottom line is I'm not giving my team a chance to win," Carpenter said. "You go out with a 5-0 lead after two innings, it's not giving your team a chance."
Vogelsong reached on shortstop Pete Kozma's fielding error in the second, scoring Brandon Belt after he led off the inning with a triple. Scutaro came up two batters later and doubled home two more runs.
The 10 unearned runs allowed by the Cardinals are the most in an NLCS, according to STATS LLC — topping the nine given up by the Braves in 2001 and Dodgers in 1985.
San Francisco never faced an elimination game in 2010 on the way to winning the World Series, but has had to go the distance in each of its first two postseason series this year. They became the first team in major league history to come back from a 2-0 deficit to win a best-of-five series by winning three straight on the road as they did at Cincinnati.
"We're enjoying this moment. We know how to handle this situation," San Francisco third baseman Pablo Sandoval said.
They have Vogelsong along for this year's run.
"He was on top of his game again," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's probably been as consistent as any starter this year."
The Giants put pressure on Carpenter right away.
Scutaro drew a one-out walk and Sandoval doubled off the wall in center on a ball that eluded Jon Jay. Posey followed with a groundout to third to score Scutaro for a 1-0 lead.
Scutaro is batting .458 (11 for 24) during the NLCS.
"I don't really know, man," Scutaro said when asked to explain it. "Just excited to come to the field every day. ... Being in this opportunity, just being in the playoffs, is amazing."
While the Giants have won five straight games facing elimination this postseason, the Cardinals have won their last six dating to last year. This is the first time the NLCS has gone seven games since 2006, when St. Louis beat the New York Mets 3-1 at Shea Stadium. Carlos Beltran, now with the Cardinals, struck out looking when Adam Wainwright froze him on a curveball.
"This night, this moment belongs to every player in here and every fan in the stands," San Francisco right fielder Hunter Pence said. "There's still another story to be told, and we'll just have to wait and see if we're going to enjoy it."