Sergio Romo and Buster Posey celebrate after final out of Game 7 of the NLCS. (David J. Phillip / Associated…)
SAN FRANCISCO — You say the San Francisco Giants might have to be pretty crazy lucky to beat Justin Verlander. You might be right, but you haven't seen pretty crazy lucky until you see the ball Hunter Pence hit on Monday.
The Giants can't win the World Series? Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder can launch home runs into the stratosphere, but neither one can hit the carom shot that knocked the life out of the St. Louis Cardinals.
For the second time in three years, the Giants are headed to the World Series. They took all the suspense out of Game 7 of the National League Championship Series in a hurry, scoring seven runs in the first three innings of a 9-0 victory and sending the Cardinals home to contemplate a miserable finish to a nice season.
The heavens opened up in the ninth inning. Marco Scutaro looked up at one point, gulping down some rain. He looked up again, to catch Matt Holliday's pop fly for the final out.
The World Series starts here Wednesday, with the first Fall Classic between the Giants and the Detroit Tigers.
Matt Cain, the winning pitcher in an All-Star game that provided the NL with home-field advantage in the World Series, carried a shutout into the sixth inning to become the winning pitcher in the game that put the Giants into the World Series.
On Monday, for the first time in the history of a franchise that opened for business in 1883, the Giants won a winner-take-all Game 7. For the sixth time this postseason, the Giants won an elimination game.
"We're a little numb right now, to be honest," Giants Manager Bruce Bochy said, "with our backs to the wall as long as they've been."
After St. Louis took a three-games-to-one lead in the NLCS, the Giants outscored the Cardinals, 20-1, over the final three games.
The turning point was Game 5, when Barry Zito established that his Giants career would be remembered for something other than that $126-million contract. The Cardinals were ready to party in St. Louis, and Zito stopped them.
Zito, whom the Giants omitted from their playoff roster when they won the World Series two years ago, appears in line to start against Verlander in Game 1 of this year's World Series.
"It feels good to be able to deliver for the San Francisco Giants," Zito said. "I was brought here to do things like that. I'm very grateful."
The Giants had a wild ride. They lost their top hitter, Melky Cabrera, to a drug suspension. They shook off every dollar the Dodgers could throw at them. They won three must-win games to survive the division series, another three to survive the NLCS.
And they could smile at the cue ball Pence hit in the third inning, the one that turned a 2-0 lead into a 5-0 countdown to victory.
"The baseball gods helped us with that ball," Bochy said.
The Giants had the bases loaded, and Pence broke his bat connecting with a 95-mph fastball. The ball appeared headed toward the hole between shortstop and third base, and St. Louis shortstop Pete Kozma broke that way.
But a fragment of the broken bat collided with the ball -- twice -- and redirected it up the middle.
"It was like a banana," Kozma said. "The ball peeled like a slice."
Kozma could not reverse himself in time, so what might have been a double play ended up a two-run single ... until center fielder Jon Jay overran the ball, then bobbled it, enabling the Giants to score another run.
None of the St. Louis players could recall a play quite like that one. As he left for the winter, Kozma said he had no desire to watch the replay.
"I saw it in real life," he said. "Why do I need to see a replay?"