ST. LOUIS -- The freaky fourth it bit Lance Lynn again.
Just like it did last Sunday night.
Almost exactly like it did last Sunday night.
The Cardinals' starting pitcher lived in a Busch Stadium universe on Friday night in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series that was parallel in very strange ways to the universe in which he lived in AT&T Park in Game 1 of the NLCS on Sunday.
In both cases, his world came crashing down in the fourth inning. In both cases, he gave up four runs in the inning. In both cases, he didn't make it to the fifth.
Only this time, it cost the Cardinals a game. In Game 1, Lynn started the fourth inning with a comfortable 6-0 cushion. The four very quick runs he allowed then weren't fatal; the Cardinals won that game 6-4.
When he imploded in the fourth inning on Friday, Game 5 was scoreless; and St. Louis eventually lost to Barry Zito and the Giants, 5-0, to send the series back to San Francisco for Game 6 on Sunday and, if necessary, Game 7 on Monday.
"Weird things happen," Lynn said tersely in a subdued St. Louis clubhouse on Friday.
A weird thing: Until the fourth inning in both NLCS starts, Lynn hadn't given up a hit.
A weird thing: Until the fourth inning in both NLCS starts, Lynn had allowed one baserunner -- a walk each time -- which means he'd faced 10 batters when the fateful frames began.
A weird thing: Through the first three innings in both NLCS starts, Lynn had thrown 37 pitches. (Thirty for strikes in Game 1; 27 for strikes in Game 2 in the first three innings.)
A weird thing: In both NLCS starts, Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro led off the San Francisco fourth with a single.
Now, whether to believe Lynn about this is up to you, but he said late Friday that the fourth inning of Game 1 didn't cross his mind at all during the fourth inning of Game 5.
How much thought did he give it? "Zero," he said. "I don't remember Game 1. Scutaro led off [the inning] in Game 1? I never would've guessed. I had no idea."
Like we said, his answers tended toward the terse.
One more weird thing before we move into the particulars of how Friday night's fourth inning unraveled: a quick comparison of Lynn's pitching lines in his two NLCS starts.
Game 1: 3 2/3 IP, 18 batters faced, 2 walks, 3 strikeouts, 5 hits, 4 runs, 4 earned runs.
Game 5: 3 2/3 IP, 18 batters faced, 2 walks, 6 strikeouts, 4 hits, 4 runs, 0 earned runs.
That last category -- earned runs -- obviously is the biggest difference between the two outings. On Friday, the Giants scored their fourth-inning runs after Lynn's throwing error on what might have been a double play that would have ended it before the damage could be done. With Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval on base, the Giants' Hunter Pence tapped a weak bouncer to Lynn's left. He picked it up, but his throw to second hit the bag and bounced into center field as Scutaro scored the game's first run. The error made the subsequent three runs unearned, too.
Brandon Belt popped out for the second out; but, very much like last Sunday, the third out eluded Lynn. In Game 1, he gave up four consecutive hits with two outs; on Friday with two outs, he walked Gregor Blanco and then allowed a pair of hits, including a perfect safety squeeze bunt for a single and a run by Giants pitcher Barry Zito.
So there's that, the unearned runs, for those -- such as Pence -- who aren't immediately given over to the curiousness of the coincidence.
"Not really similar. It was 0-0 this time," Pence said. "And I don't think they made any errors in that first game. OK, I guess there are similarities. Was he throwing a no-hitter at that point in both games? He was? Strange."
Well, yes. At any rate, Lynn's throwing error opened the door for a Giants team that had been struggling to score runs. And the way Zito pitched -- 7 2/3 innings of scoreless ball -- the Cardinals didn't have the room to wiggle around it.
Think St. Louis manager Mike Matheny will be keeping a close eye on the fourth inning if the Cardinals advance to the World Series and he has Lynn on the mound?
"Moving forward," Matheny said, "he's been a very, very good pitcher for us this season. And we don't look any further past right now. He's done a nice job for us. He came out and I knew we were going to see a different pitcher.
"I was just hoping it would last a little longer than it did."