SAN FRANCISCO – In a postseason full of twists and turns, the San Francisco Giants are headed back to the World Series after a remarkable comeback against the defending champions.
Hunter Pence got the Giants going with a weird double, Matt Cain pitched his second clincher of October and San Francisco closed out Game 7 of the National League Championship Series in a driving rainstorm, routing the St. Louis Cardinals, 9-0, on Monday night.
San Francisco won its record-tying sixth elimination game of the postseason, completing a lopsided rally from a three-games-to-one deficit.
“We’re going to the World Series, this is unbelievable,” NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro said.
The Giants, who won the 2010 World Series, will play host to reigning American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander, Triple Crown slugger Miguel Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 on Wednesday.
Verlander is set to pitch the opener at AT&T Park. Giants manager Bruce Bochy didn’t announce a starter for Game 1, but left-hander Barry Zito is expected to get the nod.
Scutaro produced his sixth multihit game of the series and matched an LCS record with 14 hits and Pablo Sandoval drove in a run for his fifth game in a row.
“These guys never quit,” Bochy said. “They just kept believing and they got it done.”
After falling behind 3-1 in the series at Busch Stadium, the Giants outscored the wild-card Cardinals over the final three games, 20-1, behind stellar starting pitching from Zito, Ryan Vogelsong and Cain.
They also benefited from some strange bounces.
On Pence’s double that highlighted a five-run third, his bat broke at the label on impact, then the broken barrel hit the ball twice more. That put a rolling, slicing spin on the ball that caused it to change directions — leaving shortstop Pete Kozma little chance to make the play. Kozma broke to his right, figuring that’s where the ball would go, but it instead curved to left-center.
Fans in the sellout crowd of 43,056 kept twirling their orange rally towels even through rain in the late innings — a downright downpour when Sergio Romo retired Matt Holliday on a popup to Scutaro to end it.
“This rain never felt so good,” Scutaro said.
Romo embraced catcher Buster Posey as fireworks went off over McCovey Cove beyond right field.
The NL West champion Giants won their first postseason clincher at home since the 2002 NLCS, also against the Cardinals.
These 2012 Giants have a couple of pretty talented castoffs of their own not so different from that winning combination of 2010 “castoffs and misfits,” as Bochy referred to his bunch — with Scutaro at the top of the list.
Acquired July 27 from the Colorado Rockies, Scutaro hit .500 (14-for-28) with four RBI in the NLCS. The 36-year-old journeyman infielder, playing in his second postseason and first since 2006 with Oakland, became the first player with six multihit games in a league championship series.
Now, he’s headed to his first World Series.
The Giants have All-Star Game MVP Melky Cabrera to thank for helping his teammates secure home-field advantage in the postseason — while Cain was the winning pitcher in the National League’s 8-0 All-Star victory in July. Cabrera was suspended 50 games Aug. 15 for a positive testosterone test, then wasn’t added to the roster by the Giants after his suspension ended.
After rain fell on the Cardinals during batting practice, the skies turned blue and the weather cooperated. Anxious players on both sides hung over the dugout rails as the game began.
Cain joined St. Louis’ Chris Carpenter as the only pitchers with victories in two winner-take-all games in the same postseason. Carpenter, who lost Games 2 and 6 o this series, did it last year.
Cain also pitched the Giants’ Game 5 NL Division Series clincher at Cincinnati, when San Francisco became the first team in major league history to come back from an 0-2 deficit in a five-game series by winning three consecutive road games.
“I think to do it, the guys actually have to believe it can happen,” Posey said.
The Giants delivered on an even bigger stage Monday. The Giants won their 20th NL pennant and reached their 19th World Series.
Cain walked off the mound to a standing ovation when Jeremy Affeldt entered with two outs in the sixth. Affeldt got Daniel Descalso to pop up with two runners on.
Yadier Molina had four hits but got little help from the rest of the Cardinals, who went 1-for-21 with runners in scoring position over their final three games.
“It’s about the team that’s hot, and we went on a cold streak,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “We got to this point by being that team that was hot and taking advantage of opportunities. But we just couldn’t make it happen these last two games.”