ST. LOUIS - Kolten Wong looked disheveled.
Grass stains covered the front of his pants. Clumps of clay turned his sanitary socks from a crisp white to a dirty brown. The Cardinals jersey he wore was ripped into pieces.
For nine tortured innings, the Giants delivered knockout blows and the Cardinals punched back Sunday night. They lost leads. They lost their leader. They nearly lost their composure.
Then Wong intervened, hitting a walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth to give the Cardinals a 5-4 win that tied the National League Championship Series at 1-1.
"We came in knowing we had a battle at task," said Wong, weary from the scuffle. "These guys, they grind and grind, just like we are . . . They're not ever going to be done."
Oscar Tavares came off the bench to hit a tying solo homer in the seventh and Matt Adams bashed a go-ahead solo shot in the eighth before the Giants staged yet another improbable rally in the ninth.
Their offense has subsisted on crumbs throughout the postseason. And they stayed true to form against flame-throwing closer Trevor Rosenthal.
As a mist rolled into Busch Stadium, the Giants made good on their last gasp. Pinch hitter Andrew Susac delivered a one-out single, Juan Perez followed with another hit and the Giants suddenly had new life.
With two outs, Joe Panik fell behind 0-and-2, then battled to make it a full count. That's why punch runner Matt Duffy was running all the way from second when Rosenthal bounced a pitch past backup catcher Tony Cruz, in the game only because Yadier Molina left in the sixth with a left oblique injury that could sideline him the rest of the NLCS.
The ball trickled one way. Cruz scampered the other. Duffy slid into the plate, kicking up a cloud of dust with the tying run.
The Cardinals were in trouble. A loss would have put them in an 0-2 hole with the series resuming in San Francisco on Tuesday. Ace Adam Wainwright looked shaky in Game 1, thanks in part to a balky right elbow. And now Molina appeared vulnerable, too, perhaps forcing the Cardinals to press on without their on-field maestro.
Even Cardinals manager Mike Matheny admitted afterward that the situation "didn't look real good."
But the Cardinals were prepared for this test of resolve. In a matchup of two October-tested franchises, it was only a matter of time until they'd traded punches deep into the night, answering clutch hits with clutch hits.
"You've got two really good teams that don't quit," said Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter, who also homered. "They're relentless. They keep fighting. They don't ever feel like they're ever out of the game."
Even after Duffy's stunning dash around the bases, Cardinals catcher A.J. Pierzynski found himself offering advice to Wong, scheduled to lead off the Cardinals' ninth. The veteran implored the rookie to stay calm in the moment. Reach base, Pierzynski said; don't worry about being a hero.
And then, facing tough Giants reliever Sergio Romo, Wong ended it with a compact swing.
The Cardinals finished dead last in homers in the NL but hit four to finally beat the Giants.
Wong extended both of his arms when the ball cleared the rightfield fence. He floated around the bases, mindful of touching them all. He tossed his helmet into the air. In half an inning, Busch Stadium had gone from morgue to madhouse.
His teammates gathered at the plate, waiting to mob him and douse him with water. Later, they'd tear his jersey to shreds, overjoyed that they had survived.
Soon, Wong sought out Pierzynski. He had to ask: "Is that good enough for you?"
"He just grabbed me and hugged me," Wong said. "That's exactly what I wanted."