The St. Louis Cardinals picked the worst possible time for a three-game losing streak.
The Redbirds' defense of their World Series title ended in the tatters of a 9-0 loss to San Francisco in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series on Monday night.
After leading the series 3 games to 1 on Thursday, the Cardinals were outscored 20-1 the rest of the way -- losing 5-0, 6-1 and 9-0.
The Cardinals became the third NL team to blow a 3-1 lead in the championship series. The others: The 2003 Chicago Cubs against Florida, and the 1996 Cardinals against Atlanta -- in Tony La Russa's first season (and Ozzie Smith's last) with the team.
Manger Bruce Bochy saw his Giants win the last three games of the Division Series against Cincinnati after trailing 2-0, and the last three games of the NLCS with St. Louis after trailing 3-1. The Cardinals saw their streak of wins in elimination games -- going back to last season -- end at six.
"Bruce Bochy joked with us when the series was 3-1," Fox announcer Joe Buck said just before the Cards' season ended on a Matt Holliday popup to Marco Scutaro. "He said, 'We got them right where we want them.'"
The Giants scored solo runs in the first and second against St. Louis starter Kyle Lohse, then scored five in the third against Lohse and reliever Joe Kelly. They tacked on meaningless runs in the seventh and eighth.
The Cardinals went down without a fight: They were 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position Monday, and never led in any inning after winning Game 4 by an 8-3 score.
In the last three games of the series, the Cardinals hit .190 (19-for-100), with one RBI. They made four errors and never got a starting pitcher past the fourth inning.
The Cardinals' next game will be at Jupiter, Fla. in spring training 2013, while the Giants go on to the World Series against Detroit. The Redbirds' next regular-season game will be April 1 at Arizona, the first of a three-game series before a trip to San Francisco's AT&T Park the first weekend of the 2013 regular season.
The Giants scored solo runs in the first and second off Kyle Lohse, then got three against Lohse and two more off reliever Joe Kelly for a 7-0 lead in the third.
San Francisco led 1-0 in the first on Pablo Sandoval's RBI groundout to Lohse after singles by Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro put runners at the corners with none out.
Giants starter Matt Cain singled home the second run with a two-out single in the second, putting San Francisco ahead 2-0.
The first six Giants batters reached safely to start the third, chasing Lohse. Hunter Pence had a broken-bat two-run single against Kelly after Lohse loaded the bases with two hits and walk, and a third run came home when Jon Jay missed connections on the ball in center field.
Brandon Crawford and Pagan hit into RBI groundouts after Kelly gave up Pence's hit and another single and walked a batter.
The Giants' third inning, took 24 minutes to play, saw 11 players come to the plate. Five runs scored on four hits and an error, and they stranded three.
In the three games since St. Louis took a 3-1 lead in the series last Thursday, the Cardinals starters pitched 3 2/3, 4 and 2 innings.
The Giants will play the Detroit Tigers in the World Series starting Wednesday at AT&T Park.
In franchise history, the Cardinals dropped to 11-5 in Game 7's of postseason series. The Giants had never won a decisive Game 7 until Monday night, and are now 1-5 in that department.
Marco Scutaro was the MVP of the series, getting a record 14 hits.