ST. LOUIS -- The Giants don't need another fiery speech, another raucous dugout huddle or another round of mottos. After an 8-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, the plan is simple: Find a way to score a few more runs or go home for the winter.

The lineup sputtered for the second straight game on Thursday at Busch Stadium as the Giants fell behind 3-1 in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series. The Giants have had their backs against the wall before, but the team that couldn't touch Adam Wainwright on Thursday looks much different from the one that scored 16 runs in the final three games against the Cincinnati Reds while streaking to a historic comeback.

"We just couldn't create anything today," leadoff hitter Angel Pagan said. "We've got to get something going. Today and yesterday, they were doing a really good job. They were keeping us off balance and staying in the zone."

The Giants offense showed signs of life just twice Thursday. Hunter Pence, who was moved down a spot in the lineup, hit a mammoth homer in the second inning. Pablo Sandoval hit a two-run shot in the ninth, long after Tim Lincecum exited his first start of the postseason.

Lincecum had given up just three hits and one run in 81/3 relief innings but couldn't keep that form in his return to a starting role. He struggled with fastball command and was knocked out in the fifth inning after giving up four runs on six hits and three walks.

"It's extremely disappointing just because you feel like you can pick your team up in a situation like this," Lincecum said. "But when you don't go and do it, it's that much harder of a fall, I guess."

The Cardinals got to Lincecum right away, scoring two runs in a first inning that included three singles, a four-pitch walk and a couple hard-hit outs. Lincecum escaped further damage in the second inning when Matt Holliday's deep fly to left died on the warning track, and he retired the next seven Cardinals.

But the wheels came off again in the fifth.

Matt Carpenter, playing for injured right fielder Carlos Beltran, hit a one-out double. Holliday lined a single to center that was knocked down by a diving Angel Pagan, who made a quick throw to cutoff man Brandon Crawford. The shortstop one-hopped a throw to the plate that Hector Sanchez dropped, allowing Carpenter to score.

"I knew I had to be quick, because I knew he was going home," Crawford said. "I tried to give him the long hop. If I could do it again, I would hit him in the chest."

An RBI single by Yadier Molina scored Holliday and chased Lincecum.

"To get him out of the game was big for us," Holliday said. "Beating Tim Lincecum is always quite a challenge."

It was nothing like the challenge the Giants faced from Wainwright, who had lasted just 21/3 innings in his previous postseason start. A mix of biting curveballs and well placed cutters left the Giants shaking their heads, and more often than not, making a short jog back to the visitor's dugout.

"I think Wainwright today was as good as you're going to see," Pence said. "He was spot on with his location. Some days you get your hits, and some days you're just a click off."

The Giants have been a couple clicks off in St. Louis. After his team left 11 runners on base in Game 3, manager Bruce Bochy moved Buster Posey up to the No. 3 spot for the second time this year and dropped Sandoval to the cleanup spot. Sanchez caught Lincecum, bumping Brandon Belt to the bench.

The new look wasn't any better than the old one.

Wainwright gave up four hits in seven innings and needed just 96 pitches to cruise through the Giants' lineup.

"He had us off balance," left fielder Gregor Blanco said. "He was mixing all his pitches, throwing strikes. He was really good."

The Giants haven't been, especially in the heart of the order. Posey is 2 for 14 in the NLCS, Sandoval is 4 for 17 and Pence is 2 for 15. Sanchez hit fifth Thursday but couldn't provide a spark, going 0 for 4 with three strikeouts.

"Baseball isn't always easy," Pence said. "Sometimes pitchers are going to beat you."

For the Giants, there has been no "sometimes" with Barry Zito on the mound. They have won the last 12 times Zito, the Game 5 starter, has taken the mound, a streak that started Aug. 7 in St. Louis.

"Zito has been tremendous for us," Pence said. "We've got to find a way to get a win tomorrow, and if we go home to (Ryan) Vogelsong and (Matt) Cain throwing, we'll feel pretty good."

Pence led the charge the first time the Giants' backs touched up against the wall, giving inspirational pregame speeches that sparked a comeback against the Reds. He has no plans to morph into Reverend Pence before Game 5.

"Everyone is aware of our situation," he said.

For more on the Giants, see Alex Pavlovic's Giants Extra blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/Giants. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/AlexPavlovic.