ST. LOUIS - By now, the Giants act as if they're following a script.
They're supposed to make the most out of an opponent's mistakes. They're supposed to get away with playing first basemen in leftfield. They're supposed to win playoff games behind dominant starting pitching.
So when the Giants beat the Cardinals, 3-0, Saturday night in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, it came off as if it were a matter of routine.
Of course, there was nothing matter-of-fact about the way lefty Madison Bumgarner tossed 72/3 shutout innings. It just looked that way, another quintessential performance by the Giants.
"You can't make mistakes to them," said Bumgarner, who lowered his ERA to 0.76 in his three postseason starts. "They show you time and again what happens if you do."
He began these playoffs with a four-hit shutout of the Pirates in the wild-card game. In Game 3 of the Division Series against the Nationals, he produced another strong effort, though he marred it with a throwing error that led to his undoing.
In Game 1 of the NLCS, Bumgarner made sure there would be no lapses in concentration, striking out seven, walking one and holding the Cardinals to four hits.
"Bumgarner was good,'' Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "He kept us from having a big inning."
Travis Ishikawa, a first baseman playing leftfield, triggered a rally in the second with a blooper off Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright. In the fourth, Ishikawa made a diving catch to end one of the Cardinals' few threats.
Before Game 1, Wainwright tempered concerns about his balky right elbow, calling the issue "way overblown." But against the Giants, he did little to dispel the notion that he's been compromised by the injury. He struggled to put hitters away and his curveball rarely fooled anybody.
By the fourth inning, the Cardinals' bullpen got busy. By the fifth inning, he was gone.
"We took advantage of all the mistakes," said Pablo Sandoval, who finished 3-for-4, including a double that sparked the Giants' rally in the second.
Wainwright was chased after allowing three runs (two earned) in 42/3 innings. Crummy luck played a role. As did the Giants, who turned two bloopers, an error, a botched double play and a sacrifice fly into a 3-0 lead.
"They capitalized," Matheny said. "We knew that going in. It's going to be that kind of game, that kind of series."
With one out and the bases loaded in the second, Wainwright jammed Ishikawa with a fastball in on the hands, but he got just enough of it, dropping the ball into shallow leftfield, just inside the line. Gregor Blanco followed with a shot to third base that glanced off the glove of Matt Carpenter.
In the third, second baseman Kolten Wong got handcuffed on a grounder he should have turned into a double play. With runners at the corners, Brandon Belt lifted a sacrifice fly.
"It's just being relentless and going out there and taking what they give us," Belt said. "You take runs any way you can, or outs any way you can, in situations like this. Especially against a good team. It's just focus."
With Bumgarner in cruise control, 3-0 proved to be an imposing deficit for the Cardinals, who mustered only fleeting threats.
Bumgarner brushed them away by slinging a hail of fastballs and cutters to the edges of the plate. Not until the fifth did the Cardinals get a runner to second. Not until the seventh did they get a runner to third.
Even then, Bumgarner caught a break, getting away with a balk before striking out pinch hitter Tony Cruz to end the threat.
Bumgarner returned in the eighth to cap his latest gem. In road playoff games, he has tossed 262/3 scoreless innings, a major-league record.
"He's a guy that you want out there to start things," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "And he gave us all we were asking."