ST. LOUIS — Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn didn't blame bad luck, or a teammate being out of position, or anything else for his critical errant throw in Game 5 of the NLCS. The blame rested solely, he said, with him.
Lynn's throw, an attempt to start a 1-6-3 double play and get out of a jam in the fourth inning, bounced off second base and skipped into center field for an error, handing the San Francisco Giants a run and a big opportunity for more. Desperate to win and stay alive, the Giants responded with three more runs, which was more than enough for left-hander Barry Zito, who shut down the Cardinals over 7 2/3 innings in a must-have 5-0 victory at Busch Stadium on Friday night. The Cards still lead the series 3-2, but the final two games will be played at San Francisco starting Sunday night.
Reporters asked Lynn about well-placed hits by the Giants and other bad luck — and about Cards rookie shortstop Pete Kozma being late to cover second base on the double-play attempt — but he wasn't buying.
"I turned around and threw a ball into center field," Lynn said. "I could have gotten myself out of an inning. It's definitely my fault. I'm trying to get two and out of the inning there. That's 100 percent, you're looking for two there."
Going for a double play probably was Lynn's first mistake.
He had been rolling, retiring nine of his first 10 batters, including five strikeouts, but Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval led off the fourth with line-drive singles to right field. Lynn came back with another strikeout, overmatching Buster Posey, and Hunter Pence followed with a weak dribbler back to the mound. All the Cards needed to do was execute, but Lynn looked casual throwing to second, and Kozma hesitated and was late covering the bag. He couldn't get any leather on the ball, which kept going into center, allowing Scutaro to score.
Kozma said he thought second baseman Daniel Descalso would cover the bag on Pence's dribbler — and Descalso confirmed that was the plan before the play started — but because of where the ball was hit, to the first-base side of the mound, Descalso had to charge the ball behind Lynn in case the pitcher could not field it. This caused Kozma to hesitate, and by the time he corrected himself, it was too late.
Descalso said the play probably developed too slowly to get two outs.
"We probably should try to just get one out there," Descalso said.
Zito, watching from the Giants dugout, said what Lynn and the Cardinals were attempting something very difficult.
"[The pitcher is] off-balance. And when you've got to make an off-balance throw, and you've got a [batter] that can run, that's putting pressure on second baseman or the shortstop right there, and you know you've got to be good with [the throw]," Zito said. "It's definitely not an easy play at all."
And the Giants didn't settle for one run. The mistakes by Lynn and Kozma were about to be magnified.
Brandon Belt popped out after the error and Brandon Crawford worked the count skillfully before lining a two-run single to center for a 3-0 lead, effectively silencing the heavily partisan crowd at Busch. Batting ninth, Zito — an .075 hitter during the regular season — took a push bunt from his bag of tricks and beat out an infield single to the near side of third base for an RBI. It was the first bunt hit of his career.
Lynn wouldn't get to face Angel Pagan. Manager Mike Matheny went to the bullpen.
Even though Lynn made the error himself, all four runs he allowed were unearned. It's a quirk in the rules, but the logic is that Lynn didn't allow those runs pitching, but instead as a fielder.
"If I make the throw there, maybe I'm out of the inning," Lynn said, for perhaps the third time.
During the regular season, Lynn made one error and helped to turn one double play. So either outcome against the Giants would have been rare. But this took a disastrous turn. Coincidentally, Lynn had hit into a double play with the bases loaded in the second, killing his team's best chance to score against Zito.
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