Updated at: 10/22/2012 9:05 PM
By ANTONIO GONZALEZ
(AP) SAN FRANCISCO - Hunter Pence doubled home two runs with a slicing, broken-bat hit during a five-run third inning that chased Kyle Lohse, and the San Francisco Giants took a 7-0 lead over the St. Louis Cardinals through three innings in the decisive Game 7 of the NL championship series Monday night.
Pablo Sandoval’s run-scoring groundout in the first gave him an RBI in five straight games, matching a Giants postseason record. Home run king Barry Bonds set the mark in 2002.
Matt Cain worked out of a jam behind a strong defensive effort and extended San Francisco’s lead with a two-out single in the second. A Giants pitcher has driven in a run in three straight games. During that same span, St. Louis has scored one run as a team.
Lohse left after he walked Buster Posey to load the bases with no outs in the third. Pence then connected on a pitch from reliever Joe Kelly that broke his bat. The ball hit his bat twice more creating an awkward spin that fooled shortstop Pete Kozma, who first broke to the right. Kozma could not recover to field the slicing ball and it went for a double. A third run scored when center fielder Jon Jay misplayed the ball for an error.
The hit highlighted a run-scoring blitz that put the Cardinals in a major hole and whipped an orange towel-twirling crowd at AT&T Park into a frenzy.
The winner of the game between the past two World Series champions will host the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday night.
After some light rain during batting practice, sunshine broke through and a rainbow formed beyond the outfield, providing another scenic San Francisco backdrop.
And once again, the Giants started strong.
Cain struck out Jay on four pitches before Carlos Beltran blooped a single to center to open the first inning. Beltran stole second with two outs _ moving to 11 for 11 for his career in the postseason, the most steals ever without getting caught in a postseason career _ but Cain got Allen Craig to pop out to third.
In the bottom of the inning, Pagan and Marco Scutaro singled to put runners on first and third. Pagan scored on Sandoval’s groundout to give the Giants a 1-0 lead, although San Francisco squandered chances for more when Lohse quickly retired Posey and Pence.
The team that had scored first is 5-1 in the series. The one loss came in Game 3, when St. Louis rallied to beat the Giants 3-1 with Cain and Lohse on the mound.
Cain, San Francisco’s ace who threw a perfect game against Houston earlier this season, was hardly at his dominating best _ but his defense helped clean up his mistakes.
Yadier Molina singled and David Freese walked leading off the second. Molina moved to third when first baseman Brandon Belt made a diving stop on Daniel Descalso’s grounder, throwing from his knees to get Freese at second. After Cain struck out Kozma, shortstop Brandon Crawford leaped to catch Lohse’s soft liner to keep St. Louis scoreless.
Cain singled to center to score Gregor Blanco from second in the bottoming of the inning. Lohse cut off the relay throw and fans roared to their feet in celebration.
Crawford added another RBI in the third inning when Kozma fielded a weak grounder and threw home late, and Pagan grounded into a fielder’s choice to put San Francisco ahead 7-0.
Lohse left after allowing six hits, walking one and striking out one.
About the only thing St. Louis could rely on was history _ at least recent history, anyway. The Cardinals overcame a 6-0 deficit to stun the Washington Nationals in the decisive Game 5 of the division series.
Only this time, the stakes were even higher _ and the deficit even larger.
The Giants were going for their 20th pennant while the Cardinals were chasing their 19th. In winner-take-all Game 7s, the Cardinals are 11-4 and the Giants are 0-5.
Since 1976, 14 home teams have won a Game 6 to force Game 7, with 13 of the 14 going on to win Game 7, according to STATS LLC. The lone loser was the 2006 Mets against the Cardinals. Beltran struck out looking with the bases loaded on Adam Wainwright’s curveball for the final out in New York’s 3-1 loss.
The only other time the Cardinals opened a 3-1 lead in the NLCS came in 1996, when they lost to the Atlanta Braves in seven games. San Francisco, which never faced an elimination game in winning the 2010 World Series title, is 5-0 when pushed to the edge this postseason.
St. Louis has won its last six games when facing elimination.
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: http://www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)