ST. LOUIS -- The five days leading up to Lance Lynn's start were completely different. The game itself was all too familiar.
For the second time in the National League Championship Series, the fourth inning got away from the Cardinals' second-year right-hander, quickly and strangely. Lynn again didn't make it through the fourth, again allowing four runs and again suffering at least a little bad luck on some not-so-hard contact.
At least the sequence was different this time. In Game 1, Lynn saw bloops and dunks turn into hard contact. In Game 5, a couple of hard-hit singles gave way to a steady stream of dribblers and weirdness -- and one critical error -- that finally chased him from the game. The bottom line was all the same, though.
When asked if he saw similarities between the two-out troubles from the two games, Lynn dryly replied, "Yeah. I didn't get the third one."
|NLCS 5||10/19||S.F.||5-0 L||3 2/3||4||0|
|NLCS 1||10/14||@ S.F.||6-4 W||3 2/3||5||4|
|NLDS 4||10/11||@ Was.||2-1 L||0||1||1|
|NLDS 2||10/8||Was.||12-4 W||3||3||2|
|NLDS 1||10/7||Was.||3-2 L||1/3||0||0|
|NLWC 1||10/5||@ Atl.||6-3 W||1/3||0||0|
Lynn had hoped for, and expected, better things this time around. He had four days of rest and a normal routine between starts. In Lynn's previous outing, he was coming off an NL Division Series in which he worked repeatedly in relief. The thought was that getting back on a starter's schedule would serve him well. For three innings, it seemed to.
Then Marco Scutaro led off the fourth with a single to right field, and Pablo Sandoval followed with another line-drive single to right. Lynn struck out the Giants' most dangerous hitter, Buster Posey, on an excellent slider, bringing up Hunter Pence, and that's when things unraveled for the Redbirds.
Pence hit a comebacker to Lynn. The pitcher threw to second, attempting to start a double play, but the throw took a bizarre carom. It bounced off the front of the bag, skipped high and ended up in shallow center field, with shortstop Pete Kozma never having a chance to turn the double play. Scutaro scored and Sandoval moved to third, with Pence staying at first on the error.
Kozma was behind the bag, not in good position to make the turn, but would have at least had a chance with a good throw.
"I was late covering the bag," Kozma acknowledged.
Lynn took full responsibility for the play, though.
"I turned around and threw a ball into center field," he said. "I could have gotten myself out of the inning. It's definitely my fault."
Brandon Belt hit a soft liner to second base for the second out, and Lynn was close to escaping. But he walked Gregor Blanco to load the bases, bringing up Brandon Crawford. The light-hitting shortstop laid off one borderline pitch after another before staying with a curveball that was up in the zone, hitting a roller up the middle for two more runs.
Barry Zito's bunt then appeared to catch the Cards napping, bringing home the inning's fourth run, and Lynn was done. Reliever Joe Kelly struck out Angel Pagan to end the inning, but the damage was done as St. Louis trailed, 4-0.
It may be putting the cart well ahead of the horse, but there's some question as to how exactly Lynn will be used going forward in this postseason if the Cardinals advance. Jake Westbrook is making good progress from a strained oblique muscle and could conceivably slot into St. Louis' World Series rotation -- if the team gets that far.
In the meantime, Lynn was left to lament a frustrating game, turned upside down by a strange inning.
"I didn't give up a hit till the fourth," he said. "I had good stuff. Just another bad inning. And this time of the year, they're going to blow up on you if you give them that extra out. And I gave them an extra out tonight."
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.