ST. LOUIS -- The Giants' 9-4 victory Friday night felt familiar. The last time they defeated the St. Louis Cardinals this soundly, they captured the National League Championship Series on a soggy evening at AT&T Park, winning Game 7 by a 9-0 score.
This wasn't San Francisco, and this certainly wasn't October. But, even at this early juncture of the season, the Giants again looked primed for the postseason as they dominated the reigning NL champs.
Madison Bumgarner (7-3) allowed three hits in seven shutout innings and struck out 10, his 16th career game in double digits. The left-hander finished a fabulous May in which he posted a 5-0 record with a 2.08 ERA in six starts. Bumgarner received ample offensive support, including Hunter Pence's three-run homer off Adam Wainwright (8-3). The St. Louis ace allowed seven runs and eight hits in 4 1/3 innings.
Winning eight of their last nine games has improved the Giants' NL-best record to 36-19. That's the team's third-best mark through 55 games since the franchise moved to San Francisco in 1958. It's eclipsed only by the Giants of 1962 (40-15) and 1971 (37-18), who both reached the postseason.
That refreshed something Bumgarner said back in March:
"Knowing who we have, I know we put together a winning ballteam," he said. "Everybody's got their different opinions on what that might be, but we feel like we have a team that's capable of winning the World Series. That's what we're playing for."
Reminded of his remarks, Bumgarner praised his teammates, not his powers of prophecy. Besides, this year's Giants haven't won any titles yet.
But, he said, "It's come together really nicely. If the pitching's not there, the offense is. If the offense is not there, the pitching is. Sometimes the pitching and offense are there. It's been a nice roll so far."
Asked what he saw in his teammates that others didn't, Bumgarner replied, "We've got a lot of talented players and no selfish guys. We talk a lot about playing for each other. Hunter's a big part of that. He's always throwing little positive darts out there."
The Giants tend to toss bull's-eyes with their penchant for scoring two-out runs. They amassed seven of them in this game, including four in the second inning with two out and nobody on base against Wainwright.
"That kind of makes you feel like you're in for a rough night," Bumgarner said, summarizing how opposing pitchers feel when the Giants succeed with their last-ditch rallies.
Brandon Hicks launched the second-inning surge by coaxing a 10-pitch walk from Wainwright after falling behind on the count 0-2.
"That at-bat was pivotal," Pence said.
Bumgarner, batting a creditable .240, singled Hicks to third. After Angel Pagan's single scored Hicks to widen the Giants' lead to 2-0, Pence flexed his muscles. He drilled a 2-1 pitch into Busch Stadium's third deck, an estimated 447 feet from home plate, for his seventh homer of the season.
Citing the runs the Giants had scored, Pence said, "I think a lot of the pressure was kind of off by the time I came to bat." Complimenting Wainwright, he added, "It's tough to [guess] with him because he has so many weapons."
Not this time. The Giants ended Wainwright's 20-inning scoreless streak in the first inning and maintained pressure on him until he departed, having allowed seven runs in 4 1/3 innings. Wainwright's Major League-low 1.67 ERA ballooned to 2.32.
"You're geared up for a 1-0 game," Bumgarner said. "Fortunately for us, he didn't have it tonight."
Bumgarner, who had lost his last three starts to the Cardinals, reversed his fortunes by maintaining the approach that he has thrived with recently. He explained that by refining his delivery, he's staying on top of pitches more often, enabling him to steer his deliveries toward both sides of the plate.
The Giants led 9-0 before David Huff yielded Jon Jay's bases-loaded double in St. Louis' four-run eighth inning. Other than that, the only untoward event that befell the Giants was the end of Pablo Sandoval's nine-game streak with at least one RBI. But he did extend his hitting streak to 10 games, capping a two-hit effort with a seventh-inning double that just missed being a two-run homer. Batting .167 on May 6, Sandoval's now at .251.