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NLCS Gm2: Vogelsong pitches seven strong for the win

SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco Giants got what they wanted. They are back home -- and not to clean out their lockers. They're back in action at AT&T Park, and they have their top two starting options lined up and ready for the Cardinals.

If the Giants are going to complete this feat of spoiling yet another postseason party, well, here's their chance.

Game 6 of the National League Championship Series starts Sunday at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX, and, while the Giants are hardly out of the woods, they can certainly see the clearing.

Said Giants manager Bruce Bochy: "We're just excited that we're going home and still playing ball at this point."

The Cardinals, meanwhile, are not as excited, for they missed their opportunity to take advantage of what was their 3-1 standing and close out their second consecutive NL pennant at Busch Stadium.

And now? Well, now the intrigue increases exponentially. Because a door has swung open for the Giants. Ryan Vogelsong was so good in Game 2, and he's back on the hill. Matt Cain is in line for Game 7, if it comes to that.

The Cardinals hope it doesn't come to that.

They're already upset enough that it's come to this.

"San Francisco is a great city," said David Freese, "but I wish we weren't going back."

They're going back with their best big-game pitcher in tow. But Chris Carpenter didn't exactly rise to the occasion in Game 2, giving up five runs (two earned) in four innings to take the loss. And given that this is only his sixth outing of the season, he's certainly no sure thing.

"I had some nice work in-between that start and this start and I feel good," Carpenter said. "I'm looking forward to going back out there."

This is the part where we remind you that 3-1 leads are no sure thing, either. The Cards had one going into Game 5, and, going back to 1985, 12 prior clubs had capitalized on that advantage in the past to win the series. The Cards will either make it a baker's dozen or become just the third team since the NLCS went to a best-of-seven to watch 3-1 morph into 3-4.

A 3-2 lead is, obviously, not quite as commanding. While 13 NL teams rode it to a series win, five faltered, most recently the 2004 Astros, who couldn't contain ... yep ... the Cardinals.

The Giants won three straight on the road to stun the Reds last week. To crumple a Cards team with significantly more experience in sealing the October deal would be decidedly more stunning, even if two of the games happen to be at home.

"We're aware of what they've done," Trevor Rosenthal said of the Giants. "We're aware of what we've done, too. This team, what they did last year and what we did in the Division Series against Washington. Comebacks are possible."

The Giants know it well. But they have learned not to look at such a challenge in the grand scope, but rather one game, one inning, one pitch at a time. They know that teams that have their back against the wall are dangerous clubs, because their focus level is sharpened, their will and resistance is hardened.

"We know," said Buster Posey, "we still have a lot of work to do."

In Game 5, we saw a Giants team that not only got a sensational start from Barry Zito, but also made every above-and-beyond defensive play to keep flustering the Cards, killing and quelling would-be rallies. We also saw a struggling Giants lineup string some runs together in an opportunistic inning.

The Giants are still going to need more -- from Posey, who looks a bit lost and isn't getting much to work with, from Hunter Pence, from an all-but-invisible Brandon Belt.

More than anything, though, they'll hope Vogelsong, who allowed just a run on four hits in seven innings in Game 2, has another quality start in him and can carry the momentum set forth by Zito.

"Sometimes you wonder at this stage how much there is a home-field advantage," Giants general manager Brian Sabean said. "In some cases, because of the bullpens, it's more who can get the lead and hold off the other ballclub from scoring to win the ballgame. We know what's at stake, and I'm sure Vogey will be ready, and if we get to Cain, he'll be ready."

And the Cardinals? It seems strange to call this a must-win for them, given that they do still have the series lead. But the Cards are playing with fire if they let this thing get to a Game 7 in which they'd face the wrath of Cain.

"They're going to be talking about that -- 'Here come the Giants,'" Freese said. "It's good for TV, but it's disappointing on this end."

It's on Carpenter, then, to tame that talk, to be the guy he was a year ago -- in the Wild Card clincher, in Game 5 against the Phillies, in Game 7 against the Rangers. We saw a flash of that guy in the Division Series against the Nationals. It's in there. But Carpenter was out of sync and out of sorts against this Giants lineup on Monday, and that can't reasonably continue.

Because now, for the Cards, it's about finishing the job, lest the Giants grow more confident in their bid to spoil the party.

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