SAN FRANCISCO — Ryan Vogelsong tied a career high with eight strikeouts and the San Francisco Giants took a 5-1 lead over the St. Louis Cardinals through six innings in Game 6 of the NL championship series Sunday night.
St. Louis leads the best-of-seven series 3-2.
With the Giants trying to force a decisive Game 7 at home, Marco Scutaro hit a two-out, two-run double off Chris Carpenter to highlight San Francisco's four-run second. Buster Posey's groundout in the first scored Scutaro and gave the NL batting champion his first RBI of the series.
Vogelsong's dominant start came almost all on fastballs and commanding cutters to energize an orange towel-twirling crowd on a cool night at San Francisco's waterfront ballpark. The only baserunner he allowed was a one-out walk to Matt Carpenter in the first until Daniel Descalso's broken-bat single to center with two outs in the fifth.
Fans gave Vogelsong a standing ovation and serenaded the 35-year-old journeyman with chants of "Vog-ey! Vog-ey!" Pete Kozma also singled before Vogelsong got pinch-hitter Skip Schumaker to ground out to first.
Allen Craig's two-out single in the sixth drove home Carlos Beltran for the Cardinals' only run. St. Louis had gone 15 innings without scoring after lefty Barry Zito and Co. held them scoreless in Game 5.
Carpenter was replaced after allowing six hits and five runs — three unearned — in four innings. He walked two and struck out six, almost identical to his Game 2 loss in San Francisco, except he had only one strikeout in that start.
Matt Carpenter replaced Matt Holliday in St. Louis' lineup when the left fielder was scratched about 45 minutes before first pitch because of lower back tightness, the team said. Matt Carpenter started at first base and batted second, Craig shifted from first to left field and Beltran slid back a spot to third while playing right field.
With Vogelsong on the mound to pace San Francisco's scintillating start, Holliday's absence might not have mattered much.
After Scutaro drew a one-out walk in the first, Pablo Sandoval doubled over the head of Jon Jay as the center fielder got turned around fighting the sun and shadows during the twilight start. Scutaro scored on Posey's groundout to third to give the Giants a 1-0 lead.
Brandon Belt tripled to right-center leading off the second. Gregor Blanco struck out swinging and Brandon Crawford was intentionally walked.
With Crawford trying to steal second on the pitch, Vogelsong chopped a ball that shortstop Pete Kozma couldn't handle as Belt scored. Scutaro doubled to left and Sandoval singled on the 10th pitch from Chris Carpenter to put the Giants ahead 5-0.
The 10 unearned runs allowed by the Cardinals were the most in NLCS history, according to STATS LLC. Two teams allowed nine.
Not exactly the start St. Louis had in mind.
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 4-0 when pushed to the brink this postseason. The Giants became the first team in major league history to come back from an 0-2 deficit and win the final three games on the road when they stunned the Cincinnati Reds in the division series.
St. Louis has won its last seven games when facing elimination dating back to 2006, but the defending World Series champions were hoping to avoid another chance to extend the streak. After falling into a 3-1 hole before winning Game 5 to send the series back to San Francisco, the Giants liked their chances to do just that.
Vogelsong became the first Giants starter to last six innings this postseason when he allowed four hits over seven innings in a 7-1 victory in Game 2. Chris Carpenter had been even more reliable this time of year for the Cardinals, with his 10 postseason victories the most in franchise history.
Giants ace Matt Cain would take the mound for Game 7 in San Francisco on Monday night. Kyle Lohse, who started Game 3 opposite Cain, is likely to get the start for St. Louis.
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP