By R.B. Fallstorm/The Associated Press
ST. LOUIS — Adam Wainwright threw seven innings of four-hit ball and the St. Louis Cardinals roughed up Tim Lincecum and the San Francisco Giants in an 8-3 rout Thursday night that gave them a 3-1 lead in the NL championship series.
Matt Holliday, Jon Jay and Yadier Molina had two RBIs apiece to lead a 12-hit outburst by a team that batted just .198 through the first three games of the series.
The defending champion Cardinals can wrap up their second straight trip to the World Series as a wild card with a victory at home Friday night in Game 5. Lance Lynn faces Giants lefty Barry Zito.
Lincecum was a bust in his first postseason start since the World Series clincher over Texas in 2010, giving up four runs in 4 2-3 innings.
The two-time Cy Young Award winner with the quirky delivery earned a shot based on nearly spotless relief work earlier in the postseason but reverted to regular-season form, when he was 10-15 with a 5.18 ERA, worst among qualifying starters in the National League.
Wainwright was a glorified cheerleader while rehabbing from elbow reconstruction during the Cardinals’ improbable title drive last fall after earning the wild card on the final day and then upsetting the favored Phillies, Brewers and Rangers to give manager Tony La Russa a chance to retire on top.
Under rookie manager Mike Matheny, the Cardinals were the final team to qualify this year, too. Once again, they’ve stepped up their game.
Wainwright bounced back from a rough outing in Game 5 of the NL division series, striking out five and walking none for his first career postseason victory as a starter. The lone damage against him came on Hunter Pence’s first homer and RBI of the postseason, a second-inning clout estimated at 451 feet that soared over the visitor’s bullpen into the bleachers in left-center to cut the Cardinals’ lead to 2-1.
Now, the 14-game winner is on the verge of his first World Series as an active player since striking out Brandon Inge as the stand-in closer for injured Jason Isringhausen in the 2006 clincher over the Tigers.
Just 12 pitches in, the Cardinals had two hits and the lead and Lincecum got a visit from pitching coach Dave Righetti. Jay opened the first with a single, Matt Carpenter walked on four pitches and Holliday singled up the middle for the lead. Allen Craig tacked on a sacrifice fly.
Lincecum escaped trouble in the second after issuing two more walks, one of them on five pitches to Wainwright. The Cardinals missed a chance to add on after Pete Kozma reached on third baseman Pablo Sandoval’s fielding error to open the inning when he was thrown out trying to steal.
Lincecum had retired eight in a row before running into trouble in the fifth.
Carpenter doubled off the top of the wall in right-center with one out. He held up until Holliday’s single fell in front of fast-charging center fielder Angel Pagan, but third base coach Jose Oquendo aggressively waved Carpenter home.
The relay from shortstop Brandon Crawford was in time, but short-hopped catcher Hector Sanchez and Carpenter scored on a headfirst slide to make it 3-1 and Holliday went to second on the play. Molina’s two-out RBI single made it 4-1 and was the knockout blow for Lincecum.
Pence, who called himself “the goat” of Game 3 after stranding seven runners, hit the second-longest home run by an opposing player at 7-year-old Busch Stadium with a 451-foot drive that sailed over the visitor’s bullpen into the bleachers in left-center.
Holliday’s RBI single was the first by a Cardinals starter since Carlos Beltran’s two-run homer in the fourth inning of Game 1. Holliday entered 2 for 12 in the NLCS with no RBIs.
Sandoval hit a two-run homer in the ninth.
NOTES: Cardinals Hall of Famers Stan Musial and Ozzie Smith made pregame appearances. The 91-year-old Musial toured the warning track in a golf cart while waving to fans and Smith threw out the first pitch. Smith’s son, Nikko Smith, a former American Idol finalist, sang the national anthem. … With Beltran out, Matheny changed the lineup for the first time in the postseason. … According to STATS LLC, the Giants have faced a 2-1 series deficit eight times in franchise history. They have lost Game 4 each time.