ST. LOUIS -- This is how the cat-and-mouse game between the pitcher and hitter is played.
In the third inning, with nobody out and a runner on first, Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn struck out Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford on a wicked 94-mph fastball.
The next inning, Crawford came to the plate again. This time, the Giants had a run in with two outs and the bases were loaded. Lynn started him out with a curve for ball one. He then looked at a fastball for a called strike. That was followed by a pair of changeups off the plate. He fouled off another fastball. The count was full.
"I don't think he wanted to give in and keep pumping fastballs," Crawford said. "Yeah, he beat me on a fastball the at-bat before. And I know that. So maybe he was thinking he didn't want to give in with the fastball."
Lynn didn't. He tried a curveball. Crawford grounded it up the middle for a base hit. Two runs scored. It was the pivotal moment of the Giants' staying-alive 5-0 win over St. Louis in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Friday night at Busch Stadium.
"He's been our big, unsung hero," said right fielder Hunter Pence. "He's had a ton of clutch hits, and he did it again."
The hit was important, because it gave Giants starter Barry Zito a cushion. It was also important because San Francisco had been 5-for-26 (.192) with runners in scoring position in the previous three games.
"We kind of needed a big inning," Crawford said. "We had gotten one on the board, and that might have been enough with Zito pitching the way he was. But we hadn't had a big inning in a while, so I was glad I was able to get that through there."
Crawford, who just completed his first full year in the big lagues, wasn't necessarily looking for a breaking ball. His approach is to sit on the fastball and then make the necessary adjustments. But he also understands that there is pressure on the pitcher when the bases are loaded, even with two outs.
"I know he has to come in, because he doesn't have anywhere to put me, so I guess that's kind of my approach," he said. "I was just looking to put something hard in play, something out over the plate. I knew he needed to throw strikes because the bases were loaded. I knew he had to come over the plate, and I was glad I was able to sneak that ground ball in there."
In the decisive Game 5 of the NL Division Series, Crawford came through with a big triple in the fifth inning to help spark a six-run rally off Reds right-hander Mat Latos that completed San Francisco's comeback. And in Game 2 of the NLCS, he was right in the middle of a four-run rally that helped the Giants split the first two games at AT&T Park. He chopped a slow roller down the first-base line that handcuffed Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter, even though the official scorer ruled an error on the play.
On Friday night, Lynn was one out away from escaping a jam he created with an errant throw to second, but he walked Gregor Blanco to load the bases, setting the stage for Crawford's big hit.
"It felt good to come through. It felt great, obviously," he said. "We really haven't been hitting well with runners in scoring position or runners on base even. It was two outs, so you're just trying to hit the ball hard. You can't worry about what's happened in the past, just stay back and try to hit the ball up the middle. That's what I do."
In Game 5, what he did produced the biggest hit of the game.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.