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Tracy Ringolsby

Time running out for Giants in NLCS

Ringolsby: Time running out for Giants in NLCS

Time running out for Giants in NLCS
ST. LOUIS -- During the grind of the regular season, the Giants were able to pick up the pieces each time there was a breakdown, and push onward.

Tommy John surgery for Brian Wilson? No problem. The closer had his season shut down in April, and manager Bruce Bochy bobbed and weaved his way through the next five months, juggling a left-right balanced bullpen into one of the more consistent in the league.

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No. 3 hitter Melky Cabrera suspended for 50 games for violating baseball's drug policy? Shake it off. Final seven weeks of the season, Bochy found the bandages necessary to patch a lineup together that allowed the Giants to hold on and claim their second National League West title in three years.

Tim Lincecum proves human? Shrug. OK, the two-time Cy Young Award winner stumbles to a 10-15 record, but the Giants get an awakening from Barry Zito from his five-year pitching slumber, Matt Cain finally rises to the challenge of being an ace and Lincecum becomes the pitcher at the back of the rotation.

There, however, is something about a postseason series that exposes the deficiencies. There aren't fifth starters or long relievers getting the call. It's more mano-a-mano between the elite of each team.

It has left the Giants exposed in the NL Championship Series. St. Louis pounded out an 8-3 victory on Thursday to take a 3-games-to-1 edge in the best-of-seven series with the chance to wrap up a second NL pennant in a row with a win in its home park, Busch Stadium, on Friday night.

Don't get the wrong idea. These Giants are not making concessions speeches.

They chose their words carefully, lavishing praise on the Cardinals, and the intensity with which they play, no small part in why St. Louis was able to erase a 6-0 deficit, on the road, and claim the fifth and final game of its NL Division Series matchup with Washington. They scored four runs in the top of the ninth in that 9-7 victory.

"They're a good club," Bochy said of the Cardinals. "They fight hard. To do what they did last year was amazing. Win the World Series and you're a pitch away from losing it a couple of times. And they did it in Washington. ... They do have something going. There's no getting around that."

But there is no white flag being waved.

The Giants have pulled off a few miracles themselves this year, not only overcoming major in-season obstacles, but recovering after losing the first two games of the best-of-five NLDS with Cincinnati by winning the next three, all at Great American Ball Park.

The Giants became only the second team to win all three road games in a best-of-five series, the first to do it on three consecutive days. The Yankees won Games 1 and 2 at Milwaukee in 1981, and then, after losing the middle two games at home, rebounded to clinch an ALCS spot with a win in Game 5.

"We are in a situation where we can't get confident," said leadoff hitter Angel Pagan. "We go into [Friday's game] knowing there's no tomorrow. We understand that. We've been through that before."

And they have their lucky charm, Barry Zito, taking the mound in Game 5.

"The guys respond when he's out there," said Lincecum, who struggled in his return to the rotation after initially being sent to the postseason bullpen, taking the loss Thursday. "Things happen [with Zito pitching]."

For the first five years of his seven-year free-agent contract, which runs through next season, what happened for Zito was a long-running baseball nightmare. He, however, rebounded in 2012. More than the fact he was 15-8, the Giants were 21-11 when he started, and have won the last 12 games he started, including in Game 3 of the NLDS in Cincinnati, where the start of the recovery from losing the first two games of that series began.

"Barry's earned it," said Bochy. "We have all the confidence in Barry. ... We do have to get these bats going, though. ... We're missing the big hit here or there. It would make life a little easier."

This is a series in which the Giants' offensive woes have become exposed. Pagan is hitting .333. No. 2 hitter Marco Scutaro has a .471 average. Nobody else in the Giants' lineup is even hitting .250.

San Francisco had gone 11 at-bats without a hit with a runner in scoring position over the back-to-back losses in St. Louis in Games 3 and 4, until Scutaro doubled to open the ninth on Thursday, and one out they got a home run from Pablo Sandoval, who switched lineup spots with Buster Posey for Game 4, hitting cleanup instead of in the No. 3 slot.

"These guys will be out there fighting," said Bochy. "That's not going to change. We've been through a lot this year. We've just go to try to win the game [Friday] and see if we can get this thing back home."

It's another challenge for the Giants.

They met the ones thrown at them earlier this season.

On Friday, they hope to find out they have one resurgence remaining.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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