ST. LOUIS — Adam Wainwright had six days to sit around and think about one of the worst starts of his career.
In the fifth and deciding game of the NL Division Series against the Washington Nationals, Wainwright struggled, but his St. Louis Cardinals completed a historic comeback from a 6-0 deficit.
Wainwright went to the mound Thursday night for the first NL Championship Series start of his career determined to not let it happen again.
It didn’t. Wainwright limited the San Francisco Giants to one run on four hits through seven innings, pitching the Cardinals to an 8-3 victory that put the defending champions on the cusp of a return trip to the World Series.
The Cardinals lead the Giants three games to one and will try to clinch the series Friday night. Only twice since 1985 has an NL team holding a three-games-to-one lead lost the NLCS. The 2003 Chicago Cubs fell to the Florida Marlins, and the 1996 Cardinals lost to the Atlanta Braves.
Wainwright protected a 2-1 lead from the second through the fifth inning before his teammates gave him two insurance runs against Giants starter Tim Lincecum.
Matt Carpenter reached base for the third consecutive plate appearance with a double that was a foot away from being a home run. Carpenter scored on a single by Matt Holliday when Giants catcher Hector Sanchez dropped the ball while trying to tag the sliding Carpenter.
Yadier Molina’s two-out single scored Holliday from second and knocked Lincecum out of the game. Lincecum wound up allowing four runs in 4 2/3 innings.
After trailing 4-1, the Giants brought the tying run to the plate in the sixth after consecutive one-out singles from Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro. However, Wainwright got Buster Posey to fly to right and Pablo Sandoval to ground to second to end the threat.
Wainwright struck out five, including Sanchez three times, and did not walk a batter before turning the game over Fernando Salas, who gave up a two-run homer to Sandoval with one out in the ninth. It was the first time a Cardinals starter had worked seven or more innings and allowed one or no runs in a NLCS game since Jeff Suppan did it in Game 7 in 2006 against the Mets, when Wainwright earned the save in the 3-1 victory.
Posey, the NL batting champion and probable league MVP, went 0-for-4. He is hitting .143 (2-for-14) with no RBI and no extra-base hits in the series.
The Cardinals broke the game open with a two-run double by Jon Jay in the sixth, plus an RBI double by Molina and run-scoring single by Pete Kozma in the seventh.
Lincecum struggled during the first inning in his 33 regular-season starts this year, evidenced by a gaudy 7.64 ERA in those innings. He started slowly Thursday, too, as the Cardinals grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first.
Lincecum, making his first postseason start of the year after three relief appearances, needed 25 pitches to get three outs.
Jay led off with a single, moved to second on a walk to Carpenter and scored on Holliday’s groundball single up the middle. It was the first RBI by any of the No. 3, 4 or 5 hitters in the Cardinals’ lineup in the series. That earned Lincecum a visit on the mound from pitching coach Dave Righetti after just 12 pitches.
Allen Craig then delivered a sacrifice fly for the second run before Lincecum was able to get out of the inning without further damage.
Hunter Pence, dropped to sixth in the Giants’ batting order after going 5-for-31 (.161) with no extra-base hits and no RBI in his first seven postseason games, delivered his first home run with two outs in the second to cut the Cardinals’ lead to 2-1. The blast on an 0-1 pitch went over the Giants’ bullpen in left field and was measured at 451 feet, the longest homer in 22 postseason games since the new Busch Stadium opened in 2006.
NOTES: Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran did not play after leaving Wednesday’s game with a strained left knee. He was said to be available if needed as a pinch hitter. … With Beltran out, the Cardinals changed their starting lineup for the first time in the postseason. Craig shifted from first base to right field, and Carpenter started at first. … The Giants also changed their lineup, moving Posey to first base in place of Brandon Belt and starting Sanchez behind the plate. … With Barry Zito scheduled to be the Giants’ starting pitcher in Game 5, Madison Bumgarner was available in the bullpen. …. Lance Lynn will make his second start of the series for the Cardinals in Game 5 on Friday night … If the series returns to San Francisco for Games 6 and 7, manager Bruce Bochy said the Giants would start Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain. The Cardinals’ scheduled starters would be Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse.