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Sequel better? Aces duel in potential clincher

Sequel better? Aces duel in potential clincher

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Win and advance to the World Series. Lose and go back to Philadelphia.

The destiny of the Giants will be in their hands Thursday at AT&T Park, as they head into Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on the verge of their first World Series appearance since 2002.

Thursday's game will be a rematch of the Game 1 duel between Phillies starter Roy Halladay and Giants right-hander Tim Lincecum.

Here is more on that matchup and three other storylines heading into Game 5, live on FOX at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Timmy vs. Doc, part deux: It isn't that Game 1 of the NLCS was necessarily a dud. It was, after all, a competitive matchup in which both Halladay and Lincecum pitched solidly. Still, if you don't follow a no-hitter and a 14-strikeout performance with something similar, baseball fans are bound to be disappointed.

The thrilling game everyone expected in the series opener could materialize on Thursday on a much bigger stage. Lincecum will be riding the AT&T Park momentum as the 26-year-old attempts to clinch the NL pennant for his team. Halladay, meanwhile, is in a position to shut down the Giants offense and send the series back to Philadelphia.

In a game where there's a lot on the line for two very different reasons, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better pitching matchup.

It ain't over, till it's over: Sure, the Giants have a two-game advantage, but if you think they're looking at American League scouting reports, you're crazy. The Phillies offense scored more than four runs for only the third time all postseason in Game 4, but one would have to think there's certainly more where that came from, right?

Plus, with Philadelphia's big three of Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, the Phillies are fully capable of stringing together three straight wins. Even with those positives, it's do-or-die for the Phillies.

"I'd say, if we like to play with our backs against the wall, it's there now," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said after Game 4. "I think we're standing right there now."

Can the Giants remain calm? One more win and the 1951 sound clip of Russ Hodges' "The Giants win the pennant!" will be blaring throughout the Bay Area. There's no question the thought of once again popping champagne has crossed the Giants' minds -- and there's no reason it shouldn't, at least for a bit. Although the Giants are a group mostly comprised of players who haven't been this deep in the postseason, let alone in October period, they also are a squad full of veterans.

As first baseman Aubrey Huff said following the Game 4 win, nothing but Thursday's game will be mentioned in the Giants' clubhouse.

"We've got to win one more game," Huff said. "We've got a big battle [Thursday] with Halladay. He's one of the best out there, along with our guy, so it's going to be another exciting [game]. Two runs might win this."

Has Kung Fu Panda finally found his stroke? All season long, Pablo Sandoval has been a shell of his 2009 self, struggling in every facet of the game. The Panda showed glimpses of returning every now and then this season, but was never able to fully grasp what had escaped him.

In Wednesday's Game 4, Sandoval earned his first start of the NLCS and responded by going 1-for-4 with a huge, opposite-field two-run double in the fifth inning. It's been said before, but it's worth repeating: If Sandoval finally catches fire, a questionable Giants offense becomes very dangerous not only Thursday, but beyond.

Cash Kruth is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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