From Comcast SportsNetST. LOUIS (AP) -- The St. Louis Cardinals are oh so close. They know better than to start celebrating yet.To a man, the defending World Series champions kept their latest victory in perspective Thursday night. Before cashing in another wild-card run to a second straight pennant, they've still got to beat the San Francisco Giants one more time."We're not taking the last game to get into the World Series for granted," Matt Holliday said after an 8-3 win put St. Louis up 3-1 in the best-of-seven NL championship series with a chance to wrap it up at home. "The Giants have proven they're a great team and they had their backs to the wall against the Reds."Seated next to Holliday on the podium, Adam Wainwright chimed in: "Well said."The Giants won three straight to eliminate Cincinnati in the division series. Now they have to do it again against a team that appears to have everything working."They do have something, there's no getting around that," San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said. "It's not over. We've been in this position. We know it's an uphill battle, but we've been here before."The Giants are in a hole after Wainwright threw seven innings of four-hit ball and St. Louis' offense roughed up Tim Lincecum and the San Francisco bullpen."This is where we are and what we've got to deal with," Hunter Pence said. "The last series we were down in a similar situation, but this is a new series."The Cardinals can close it out at home Friday night in Game 5. Lance Lynn faces Giants lefty Barry Zito, and a St. Louis win would set up a 2006 World Series rematch with Detroit.Plus, the Cardinals could have Carlos Beltran back in the lineup. Beltran missed virtually all of Games 3 and 4 with a left knee strain but is optimistic about playing in Game 5 after doing some jogging and hitting indoors Thursday."Right now, the plan is to come in tomorrow and do what I have to do in order to be in the lineup," said Beltran, who is batting .375 in the postseason with three homers and six RBIs. "Today was a better day for me, better than yesterday."Tomorrow is the day I need to go for it."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.Lincecum was a bust in his first postseason start since the 2010 World Series clincher over Texas, giving up four runs in 4 2-3 innings."That second inning was a little bit laborious, but the third and fourth were a little bit better and I thought I was going to carry it further in the game," Lincecum said. "I ran into some bumps in that fifth."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 reconstructive elbow surgery during the Cardinals' improbable title drive last fall. They earned the wild card on the final day of the season and then upset the favored Phillies, Brewers and Rangers to give manager Tony La Russa a chance to retire on top.Under rookie manager Mike Matheny, the 88-win Cardinals were the final team to qualify this year, too. Once again, they've stepped up their game.Wainwright bounced back from a poor outing in Game 5 of the NL division series against Washington, striking out five and walking none for his first postseason victory as a starter."It was a big motivator," he said. "I know that I'm good enough to pitch in the postseason, to carry this team deep into the game, give them a quality game, a quality outing. Last time I didn't do it, but I knew tonight if I just believed in myself and went out there and executed pitches I would be in good shape."The lone damage against Wainwright came on 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 left-center bleachers to cut the Cardinals' lead to 2-1.Now, the 14-game winner can just about taste 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."This whole experience is so special as it is," Wainwright said. "But to get back to that World Series is always the way to go."Holliday wasn't surprised by Wainwright's strong performance."You expect Adam to pitch well and pitch like an ace, and he did," Holliday said. "His curveball was really good. He located his fastball. No surprise. We all expect Adam to pitch the way he pitched tonight, but sometimes things like the Washington game happen. But he's tough as nails. We knew he'd pitch well."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 it short-hopped catcher Hector Sanchez and Carpenter scored on a headfirst slide to make it 3-1. Molina's two-out RBI single made it 4-1 and was the knockout blow for Lincecum."He gave us all he had out there," Bochy said. "That was his last inning and he was close to getting out of that inning. He made a great effort on that ball and good throw. We had him at home plate and it's still 2-1. That's a big play in the game."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 drive that sailed over the visitor's bullpen into the bleachers in left-center.Holliday's RBI single was the first RBI by a Cardinals starter since 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, but the NL West champs are on the brink of elimination."We have all the confidence in Barry," Bochy said. "We do need to get the bats going. They've been shutting us down."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, 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. ... Wainwright has a 2.48 ERA in 13 postseason appearances, four of them starts.
If there is such a thing as being “due” in sports (and there actually isn’t, so you can probably stop reading now), the San Francisco 49ers had Sunday coming to them.
After all, the anomaly of being the “best winless team in football” based on margin of defeat lasts only so long until the “winless” part trumps the “best” part, because even the Los Angeles Chargers – the previous “best bad team in football” – aren’t the Chargers all the time.
So it was that the Dallas Cowboys exposed every weakness the 49ers have with the simplest thing there is.
The Cowboys did everything they wanted, but only whenever they wanted it, in a 40-10 dope-slapping that could actually have been worse than it was. The 49er offense was properly stymied (again), gaining only 290 yards (4.5 yards per play) and the defense was thoroughly Elliotted (as in Ezekiel-ed, who averaged 8.1 yards in his 27 touches). San Francisco’s warts were rubbed until they glowed, and if not for the fact that head coach Kyle Shanahan already knew where they were, he’d have been shocked to see how visible they were.
And therein lies the takeaway from another day at Not-So-Great-America. It turns out that the 49ers weren’t very good at much of anything before Sunday except just how far away they are from what Shanahan and general manager John Lynch believe is their destiny. C.J. Beathard remained the rookie quarterback he is, and Carlos Hyde's hard-won 68 rushing yards led to no scores. Indeed, San Francisco's only touchdown came on a four-yard improv sprint from Beathard, who is by no means a running quarterback except in abject flight.
Next week in Philadelphia figures to be no less grisly, if you’re waiting for that magic moment when “0” becomes “1.” That is, of course, unless Washington exposes the Eagles as less than what they seem, which is very often the case in the new parity-gripped NFL.
But there are subsequent get-well games at home against Arizona and then at New York against the Giants the week after, so whatever dreams you might have about them running the table backwards and getting the first overall pick in the draft are still light years from realization.
This is, however, another healthy reminder that the job to be done is at least two more years in the undoing before the doing can actually begin. Not that the players or coaches needed another lesson, mind you – they know.
But maybe you needed it, just to keep your delusions in check. Maybe the people who were “due” were all of you.
But that’s unfair, too. You didn’t undo this franchise. All you did was believe, and there’s nothing wrong with that – as long you know there will be more days like this before your team starts handing out the 40-10’s.
In the meantime, there is beer.
SANTA CLARA -- Three things you need to know about the 49ers’ 40-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 7 on Sunday:
1. A major step backward
So much for the 49ers’ somewhat-impressive streak of close losses.
There was nothing encouraging about what transpired in the 49ers' worst loss at Levi’s Stadium. It was also the franchise's worst home loss since Mike Singletary's team absorbed a 45-10 thumping against the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 11, 2009.
Was there anything positive to take from this game?
“No, not right now,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “It was disappointing. I think all three phases, players and coaches, we’ve got to play better than that, a lot better to give ourselves a chance to win.”
The competitive nature of the 49ers’ past five games was one thing. But with a big home loss on such an emotional day, it is fair to say that the honeymoon is over for Shanahan and general manager John Lynch. The 49ers looked like a team devoid of any leadership, and brings more scrutiny onto the organization’s decision last week to release linebacker NaVorro Bowman.
Now, the 49ers face a crossroads. With another cross-country trip ahead, the 49ers have to regroup in a hurry in order to avoid another embarrassing blowout against the Philadelphia Eagles.
2. Beathard’s first start
Rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard certainly was not the reason the 49ers got blown out. In his first NFL start, he showed a lot of toughness, which was to be expected. He was sacked five times. But most of those sacks could have been avoided. He has to get rid of the ball quicker, especially on three-step drops.
Beathard also showed some promise, too. He let the ball fly deep for Marquise Goodwin, who caught four passes for 80 yards. Beathard completed 22 of 38 passes for 235 yards.
Beathard accounted for the 49ers’ only touchdown with a 4-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. There seems to be little doubt it was in the best interest of the organization to begin evaluating what it has for the future with the permanent switch from Brian Hoyer to Beathard.
3. Dwight Clark’s Day
The 49ers, of course, did nothing to evoke any memories of the great teams on which Dwight Clark played. Well, they did look a lot like Clark’s first team with the 49ers.
The 49ers of 1979 lost their first seven games of the season. This year’s team matched that start for the worst beginning to a season in franchise history.
More than 35 of Clark’s teammates off the 1981 Super Bowl team were in attendance to honor a pay tribute to Clark, who is battling ALS. Now in a wheelchair and considerably lighter, Clark delivered some poignant remarks at halftime.
Clark, 60, told his old teammate, Keena Turner, who works as vice president of football affairs, that all he wanted was to see some of his old teammates.
“And the 49ers heard that and flew all these players in, so I could see them one more time,” Clark said.