ST. LOUIS -- On Sunday afternoon in San Francisco, Chris Carpenter will get the chance to atone for something very unusual: a rocky playoff start. As far as his teammates are concerned, he has nothing to make up for.
In Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, Carpenter endured the shortest full-rest start of his postseason career, a four-inning defeat against the Giants. He equaled a career playoff worst by allowing five runs (two earned), with two walks and one strikeout. It was as uncharacteristic as it gets for a man who's practically a talisman in St. Louis.
"The last time out, my stuff went backwards a little bit," Carpenter said. "And then my command wasn't very good, and I was trying everything I could to get outs, but it just unfortunately didn't work. So I had some nice work in between that start and this start and I feel good, and I'm looking forward to going back out there."
Now Carpenter gets the opportunity to erase that start and build on his exemplary playoff record. He'll be going for his fourth career win in a playoff clincher when the Cardinals and Giants meet in Game 6 (6:30 p.m. CT on FOX).
Key stat: Carpenter lasted only four innings in his Game 2 start in the NLCS, allowing five runs (two earned) on six hits.
Key stat: Vogelsong was sharp in Game 2, going seven innings and surrendering just one run on four hits.
At AT&T Park
2012: N/A Career: 2 GS, 2-0, 4.26 ERA
2012: 15 GS, 7-4, 2.86 ERA Career: 33 GS, 14-11, 3.00 ERA
Against this opponent
2012: N/A Career: 8 GS, 4-1, 3.57 ERA
2012: 1 GS, 1-0, 0.00 ERA Career: 6 GS, 2-4, 6.51 ERA
Loves to face: Hunter Pence: 5-for-28, 7 K Hates to face: Ryan Theriot: 7-for-15, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 RBI
Loves to face: Yadier Molina: 3-for-14 Hates to face: Carlos Beltran: 6-for-13, 4 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBIs
Why he'll win: Though he made only two road starts this regular season, Carpenter has a career 3.99 ERA away from home .
Why he'll win: Vogelsong has been brilliant in his first career postseason, posting a 1.50 ERA over two starts.
Pitcher beware: Carpenter has yet to escape the sixth inning in his two starts this postseason.
Pitcher beware: Vogelsong was 5-7 this season when pitching with five or more days' rest, as opposed to 9-2 with four days' rest.
Bottom line: Carpenter was decent in his first two outings, though a longer, steadier start would go a long way toward clinching the series for the Cardinals.
Bottom line: For the second time in his first three postseason starts, Vogelsong will take the mound in a possible elimination game.
"I think with Carp, it's kind of the same thing with Adam [Wainwright]. They want that next chance to dominate," said third baseman David Freese. "And Carp's a gamer, everybody knows that, [with] what he's done over the course of his career. He understands that his time is limited in this game. Besides [the World Series wins in 2006 and '11], he wants to finish with more. And getting that ball and getting out on that mound, he's up for it. He can't wait."
Sunday will mark the fifth time in Carpenter's career that he's started with a chance for his team to clinch a playoff series. In those games, he and the Cardinals are 3-1. He relishes the opportunity.
"We want to win it as soon as we can," Carpenter said Saturday. "We wanted to do it last night. We have to get one win before they get two. We'll do whatever we can. If it's not tomorrow night, we'll come in and do it again."
Carpenter has a 1.93 ERA in those starts over 28 innings, with 17 strikeouts and five walks. He's the man the Cards want on the mound, even following a shaky previous start.
"Any time you have the luxury of sending Chris Carpenter out there, it's a nice weapon to have," said second baseman Daniel Descalso. "I know he wants to pitch better than he did last time, and I'm sure he's going to come out ready to go."
The occasional clunker isn't entirely unexpected from a man in Carpenter's position. He missed nearly the entire season due to thoracic outlet syndrome, making his first start of the year on Sept. 21. Sunday's game will be Carpenter's sixth competitive game of any kind this year. That's how many starts a pitcher usually makes just in Spring Training.
And yet in most of those starts, Carpenter has been effective, if not quite at his sharpest. But that's the point -- this is still, in a sense, Spring Training for Carpenter, and pitchers tend to be a little shaky in the spring. He should be trending upward.
"Talking about Carp, I mean, just look at his season this year," said outfielder Jon Jay. "Everyone said he wasn't going to pitch again. We saw in the clubhouse how he was determined to pitch. He was determined for his teammates. He could have easily said, 'Hey, I'll be ready next year.'"
Instead, Carpenter is getting ready for his next start. And history suggests he'll bounce back nicely. The last time Carpenter had a rough playoff start was Game 1 of the 2011 NLDS. He followed it with a shutout against the Phillies in Game 5 to send the Cardinals to the NLCS. Before that, Carpenter followed five runs in five innings against the Mets in the 2006 NLCS with six strong innings (in a loss) in Game 6 of that series.
Carpenter is ready to do it again, ready to make up for a substandard showing earlier in the series. Not that he needs to prove a thing.
"I don't see any reason not to [expect great things]," said reliever Mitchell Boggs. "We're sending a guy out there that has pitched big for us a lot."