SAN FRANCISCO -- The St. Louis Cardinals held the San Francisco Giants at bay -- barely.
Three St. Louis homers that just cleared the wall behind Barry Bonds in left field overcame his own prodigious shot into McCovey Cove and gave the Cardinals a 5-4 victory Saturday that cut San Francisco's lead to 2-1 in the NL championship series.
''I know we had to win today to make it a series,'' Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. ''If you go down 3-0, it would be really tough to come back. With a win, we made it a competitive series. But they're still in charge.''
Mike Matheny and Jim Edmonds hit solo homers that helped St. Louis shake off some early jitters and take a 4-1 lead. Eli Marrero then connected for a tiebreaking shot in the sixth inning in St. Louis' first at-bat after Bonds' blast.
''It changes the mood in the dugout,'' Bonds said of his homer. ''It gets everybody fired up. But then they came back and took the lead.''
The Cardinals preserved the narrow lead with clutch relief, getting out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the seventh. Jason Isringhausen worked the ninth for the save, pitching around a one-out walk to Bonds.
After losing the first two games at home, the Cardinals avoided falling into a 3-0 hole that no team in baseball has ever overcome.
''We knew we had to turn it around in a hurry,'' Matheny said.
Game 4 is Sunday, with San Francisco's Livan Hernandez pitching against Andy Benes.
The Cardinals got inspiration from 5-year-old Kannon Kile, the son of late pitcher Darryl Kile, who died June 22. Kannon got a standing ovation as he was introduced with the St. Louis players before the game, doffing his cap as he sucked on a lollipop, and watched the game from the dugout, encouraging his dad's former teammates.
After the final out, Kile hopped around on the field giving low-fives to the players before sliding into home in his clean, white uniform, the victory secured.
There was also a high-flying air show by the Blue Angels, who soared above the ballpark in their F/A-18 Hornets, leaving vapor trails as the players stopped and watched at one point.
But the game provided more than enough entertainment for an energetic sellout crowd of 42,177 at Pacific Bell Park.
The most exciting moment came when Bonds walked to the plate with two runners on and the Giants trailing 4-1 in the fifth inning.
After taking a first-pitch ball from winning pitcher Chuck Finley, Bonds connected with his maple bat, hitting a drive to right field. He tossed his bat aside and raised his arms to the sky as the ball sailed into San Francisco Bay for the first splash homer in postseason history.
''From where I was I thought it was a pretty good pitch and he hits it into the bay,'' La Russa said. ''That shows how incredible Bonds is.''
The ball was quickly scooped up by a fan in a small boat with a net as Bonds rounded the bases and kissed his son as he crossed home plate.
Bonds' fourth postseason homer this year and fifth of his career caught nearly everyone's attention. Some of the Minnesota Twins watched the at-bat as they took batting practice down the coast in Anaheim before Game 4 of the ALCS.
The homer was just the second Finley had allowed to a lefty in his past 62 starts. But then again, Bonds is no normal lefty.
After Marrero's homer down the left-field line off losing pitcher Jay Witasick gave the Cardinals the lead, they didn't let Bonds beat them his next time up, walking him intentionally with a runner on second, putting the go-ahead run on base. The move prompted the chicken dance to be shown on the center-field scoreboard.
''I'm just trying to figure out our best chance to win the game,'' La Russa said. ''I think it makes sense.''
Benito Santiago then hit a slow roller under Dave Veres' glove for an infield single to load the bases. Veres struck out Reggie Sanders and Steve Kline retired J.T. Snow on a groundout -- the third time the Giants left the bases loaded.
San Francisco stranded a runner on second in the eighth inning and left 11 runners overall.
''We just couldn't get that big hit today,'' Giants manager Dusty Baker said.
Both teams looked discombobulated early with wild throws, miscommunications and blunders in the field leading to early runs.
Finley overcame two misplays in the first. Shortstop Edgar Renteria committed an error and Fernando Vina forgot to cover second base on a force. But Finley retired Sanders with the bases loaded to end the inning as the Cardinals escaped a near collision between Vina and Edmonds in center.
The Giants took a 1-0 lead in the second on Rich Aurilia's sacrifice fly after neither Finley nor third baseman Albert Pujols tried to field a bunt by Ortiz that loaded the bases.
San Francisco then loaded the bases with two outs for Bonds, but the slugger just missed and popped up a ball to right field. Bonds clapped his hands in disgust at the missed chance.
Vina almost collided with J.D. Drew this time, prompting a conference of Cardinals that started on the field and continued in the dugout between innings. They settled down in time to save their season.
''We weren't playing the best defense we could play,'' Matheny said. ''Chuck did a great job keeping his composure giving us a chance because things could have gotten ugly.''
St. Louis capitalized on a third-strike wild pitch by Ortiz and Lofton misjudging Vina's line-drive double to center to score two runs in the third and take their first lead of the series.
Matheny's first homer since April 26 -- a span of 279 at-bats -- made it 3-1 in the fourth.
In the fifth, Edmonds hit the first ball of the day into McCovey Cove, but it was just foul down the right-field line. He then hit the next pitch over Bonds' head in left.
Notes: The 13 homers in the series are tied for the most in NLCS history. ... The Giants have scored in the first or second inning in 16 straight games. ... The Cardinals had lost nine of 10 NLCS games.
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