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NLCS Gm2: Scutaro's single opens up a 5-1 lead

SAN FRANCISCO -- Marco Scutaro began Monday night's game sprawled frighteningly on the infield dirt. But Scutaro soon picked himself up and hoisted the Giants with him.

This postseason has been all about inspiration for the Giants, who have rallied around Hunter Pence's pregame speeches like mountain climbers rally around oxygen. But Pence's exhortations may have been eclipsed by the gutty Scutaro, painful left hip and all. He contributed a two-run single, the biggest hit in a four-run fourth inning, as the Giants evened the National League Championship Series at one game apiece with a 7-1 triumph over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Ryan Vogelsong's seven-inning stint, the finest performance by a Giants starter in this postseason, helped San Francisco seize a slight historical edge. Of the previous 42 teams to lose Game 1 of the NLCS, 23 recovered to win Game 2.

The teams will play the next three games at St. Louis, with Game 3 set for Wednesday at 1 p.m. PT on FOX following Tuesday's scheduled off-day. The Giants need just one victory to bring the best-of-seven series back to AT&T Park for Game 6 on Sunday afternoon.

"That's the goal, to come back home," Giants left-hander Jeremy Affeldt said. "In a perfect world, we take all three and come back home as the World Series attendee. Do I think anybody is going to assume that's going to happen against that team? Absolutely not. But we're going to try to win every game we can and try to push [Games] 6 and 7 back home with us."

This had the feel of an elimination game for the Giants. The Cardinals finished 50-31 at Busch Stadium, sharing the NL's best home record with Cincinnati and Washington. A 2-0 series deficit upon arriving in St. Louis wouldn't have been insurmountable for San Francisco, which overcame that disadvantage against the Reds in the Division Series. But given the October passion of Cardinals fans, the Giants would have faced an especially rigorous challenge.

"It's not a whole lot of fun being down 2-0 and going into somebody else's place," said first baseman Brandon Belt, adding that the win "relieves a little bit of pressure."

Cardinals third baseman David Freese acknowledged the outcome's significance.

"I think it's huge that they won the second game," he said. "Statistically, if you go up 2-0, you've got a pretty good shot of winning the series. That's not the case. Both teams are still confident. I know the Giants are going to turn the page and be ready for Game 3 just like us."

The Giants hope they can play Game 3 with Scutaro, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound second baseman who was injured when Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday, listed at 6-4 and 235 pounds, plowed into him in the first inning in an attempt to break up a double play. Scutaro remained in the game through the fifth inning, then underwent an X-ray (which was negative) and an MRI to determine the extent of the injury. An update on Scutaro's condition is expected Tuesday.

Scutaro's ability to stick around as long as he did deeply impressed the Giants. His productivity was a bonus.

"That shows you how tough he is," said manager Bruce Bochy, who considered Holliday's slide overly late and therefore in violation of baseball's rules.

"What he did was extremely inspiring," Pence said of Scutaro. "We all know what's at stake. This is playoff baseball. We all know that everyone's going to play hard. I don't believe that Holliday was going in to hurt anybody. I believe that he went in really hard to break up a double play and Scutaro took a tough shot."

Center fielder Angel Pagan was among the Giants who surrounded Scutaro after his encounter with Holliday.

"He was definitely in pain," Pagan said. "But he's a tough competitor."

"Tough" was the common denominator in those remarks. That described not only Scutaro but also the club's overall performance.

San Francisco regained its knack for competent pitching as Vogelsong, who defines toughness with his gruff game-day demeanor and his career-long refusal to quit, surrendered four hits and a second-inning run. Vogelsong, who became the first Giants starter in seven postseason games to reach six innings, owns a 1.50 ERA in two postseason starts. San Francisco's other starters have combined for a 7.59 ERA.

"It was a big thing for Vogey to do what he did tonight because, frankly, we needed it," said Affeldt, who pitched a perfect eighth inning before Sergio Romo worked the ninth. "With Vogey giving us what these starters are used to doing, it shows how important it's going to be to continue doing that."

Vogelsong described his increasing effectiveness as the best he has ever pitched in a Major League game.

"I think it was the third inning when [Carlos] Beltran hit the leadoff double, and I was in the stretch. Something clicked mechanically," Vogelsong said. "That's really all I can tell you. I threw a pitch, and it was like, 'That's it, right there. That's how I want to feel.' I was able to run with that feeling and keep it going."

Vogelsong faltered only when opposing pitcher Chris Carpenter lashed a two-out RBI double. That briefly tied the score, since Pagan gave the Giants their first lead at home in this postseason with his leadoff homer. It was Pagan's second leadoff round-tripper of this postseason, pairing him with Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins (2008) as the only players to accomplish this feat in a single postseason.

"You definitely set a tone," Pagan said. "When I hit this one, everybody got so fired up. Obviously [the Cardinals scored] right after, but we never gave up."

The Giants didn't make authoritative contact in their breakthrough fourth, but they were effective enough.

Brandon Belt began the uprising by blooping a one-out double to left field. Gregor Blanco chopped a single to left over a leaping Freese, leaving runners at the corners. Brandon Crawford hit another chopper that Carpenter fielded as he rushed off the mound toward the first-base line. His off-balance throw to first eluded Allen Craig, enabling Crawford to reach safely as Belt scored.

Vogelsong's sacrifice bunt preceded a walk to Pagan that loaded the bases. Up came Scutaro, who retaliated for Holliday's slide in the best way possible by singling home Blanco and Crawford. The speedy Pagan also scored as Holliday misplayed the ball for an error.

Scutaro's replacement, Ryan Theriot, contributed a two-run single in the eighth, which was partially set up by a controversial play earlier in the inning. Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay made an impressive diving catch of Crawford's line drive and appeared to double off Blanco at first, but Blanco was ruled to have evaded the tag.

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