MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Carpenter leads Cards to brink of NLCS

Carpenter leads Cards to brink of NLCS

Carpenter leads Cards to brink of NLCS
WASHINGTON -- This was not Kirk Gibson hobbling to home plate, delivering that walk-off home run off Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 Fall Classic that gave the Los Angeles Dodgers the shot they needed to upset the Oakland A's and go on to claim the World Series title.

Wild Card vs. Nationals

And there was no bloody sock like the one Curt Schilling made famous when he pitched Boston into a decisive Game 7 against the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series, allowing the Red Sox to become the first team to rebound from 0-3 in a best-of-seven series en route to their first World Series title since 1918.

But it wasn't bad, the way the elements combined in St. Louis' 8-0 victory in Game 3 on Wednesday against the Washington Nationals to give the Cardinals a 2-1 edge in the best-of-five National League Division Series.

Carp sharp in October
Most career postseason wins
Rank Player Inn. Wins
1. Andy Pettitte 270 19
2. John Smoltz 209 15
3. Tom Glavine 218 1/3 14
4. Roger Clemens 199 12
5. Curt Schilling 133 1/3 11
Greg Maddux 198 11
7. Chris Carpenter 100 10
David Wells 125 10
Dave Stewart 133 10
Whitey Ford 146 10
10. Orlando Hernandez 106 9
Catfish Hunter 132 1/3 9

There was Chris Carpenter, the inner force of the Cards' clubhouse, slightly more than two months removed from what was supposed to be season-ending surgery to correct a nerve that was creating numbness in his right shoulder, taking the mound and turning in a bend-but-don't break 5 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball.

Along came Pete Kozma, who "five times during the summer" while he was in the Minor Leagues was about to be taken off the 40-man roster, before finding himself the Cardinals' starting shortstop in a September postseason race because of an injury to Rafael Furcal, delivering the momentum-moving three-run home run in the second inning.

And now the Cards sit one victory away from taking the second of four postseason steps needed to become the first NL team to repeat as World Series champions since Cincinnati's Big Red Machine in 1975-76.

Carpenter weaved his way through a scoreless afternoon of work despite the fact that 17 of the 27 batters he faced came up with a man on base -- only two of them getting hits -- taking any road-game pressures off the Cardinals. They now have two shots at winning this NLDS, and have a perfectly aligned rotation.

Kyle Lohse, who started the Wild Card showdown in Atlanta on Friday, is set to start Thursday, and Adam Wainwright is ready to go on regular rest in case a Game 5 is needed on Friday.

"That's a great compliment to our guys, and I think that's a result of their character," said manager Mike Matheny. "You mix a team that has character and talent, it's a tough force to stop.


"You mix a team that has character and talent, it's a tough force to stop."
-- Mike Matheny

"Character is developed through the adversity, and the adversity seemed to start off in Spring Training when we lose a Carpenter, and then a Lance Berkman goes down, and all of the change that happened since the 2011 season [including the free-agent departure of Albert Pujols].

"There were plenty of excuses for these guys to take. They have intentionally decided not to go the route of the excuse, just come out and play the game. ... That's a sign of good leadership inside of that clubhouse."

That starts with Carpenter, sidelined in Spring Training with a right shoulder ailment and limited this season to three September starts and 17 innings of work. But the veteran righty was able to pick up the spirits of his teammates not only with what he did on the mound on Wednesday, but with what he does every day in the clubhouse.

"He is our heart and soul," pitcher Lance Lynn said. "Him being back this time of year gives everyone, not just our pitchers, a huge lift."

It was Carpenter, after all, who earned four of the Cards' 11 postseason victories a year ago, including a 1-0 complete-game victory at Philadelphia in the win-or-go-home Game 5 of the NLDS, and Game 7 against Texas in the World Series.

"The guy has been in every situation possible and succeeded," said left fielder Matt Holliday. "He impacts the morale of the team. Everyone knows how he competes. He's an animal."


"Everyone knows how he competes. He's an animal."
-- Matt Holliday

And much like a year ago, when the Cardinals also qualified for the postseason as a Wild Card team, St. Louis is starting to act like a championship beast right now.

"Last year was a fun ride, and having that under our belts helps," said Lynn. "We had to fight back [in this series], and it made us realize we could get the job done. You don't want to get used to being behind, but it gives you character. It gives you confidence."

The Cards came up a hit short in a 3-2 Game 1 loss at Busch Stadium on Sunday, but they have made their presence felt the two games since. There was a 12-4 stunner in St. Louis on Monday, and then the combined shutout on Wednesday, a vital victory for a team that went on the road knowing it needed to win two out of three in unfriendly confines, and now just has to split two games to advance.

That's 20 runs in two games against a pitching staff that had an NL-low 3.33 ERA during the regular season, and a team that won a Major League-best 98 regular-season games.

"It's great [to win Wednesday], but the big test is ahead of us," said Holliday. "We need to win another game. What helps is the majority of these players played in series that were intense last year. We played in win-or-go-home games and we won.

"When something goes wrong, we know we are going to be OK if we take care of business."

And the business at hand for the Cardinals is coming up with one more win in Washington.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.