ST. LOUIS – When Matt Carpenter trotted to right field at the start of the second inning on Wednesday, replacing Carlos Beltran, it was definitely a cause for concern for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Beltran, even after grounding into a double play in the bottom of the first, still had a .400 average this postseason and a .375 average in his postseason career, among the highest in baseball history.
Carpenter made certain, however, that he did more than just occupy Beltran’s defensive position and spot in the batting order – he delivered like Beltran as well. His two-run homer in the third inning sent the Cardinals on to a 3-1 win over the San Francisco Giants in the rain-delayed Game 3 of the NL Championship Series.
The win gave the Cardinals a 2-1 series lead and raised their record to 9-1 in postseason games following a loss the last two seasons.
After Matt Cain retired the first two batters in the third, Jon Jay blooped a single to left and moved to second on Cain’s wild pickoff attempt. Two pitches later, Carpenter launched a 2-2 pitch over the Cardinals’ bullpen in right; the blast measured at 421 feet. Carpenter, whose parents made a nine-hour drive from their home in Texas to be at the game, had been 4-for-4 against Cain in the regular season.
It was Carpenter’s first home run at home since May 15 and he became the first Cardinal to hit a home run in his first career at-bat in the NLCS since Eduardo Perez did it as a pinch-hitter in game 2 of the 2002 NLCS, also against the Giants.
Beltran was said to be suffering from a strained left knee, and his status was listed as day-to-day.
The pitch to Carpenter was one of a very few mistakes on the day by Cain, who retired 11 of the next 12 hitters he faced before David Freese got a one-out double in the seventh, and then came around to score on a bases-loaded grounder by Shane Robinson to Marco Scutaro, who could not get the ball out of his glove to make a throw to the plate.
That was the final play before a 3 hour, 28 minute rain delay. Closer Jason Motte relieved to start the eighth for the Cardinals. He worked two innings in a game five times during the regular season, but had never recorded a six-out save in his career.
Cain, 0-2 in his career in three regular-season starts in St. Louis, limited the middle three hitters in the St. Louis lineup — Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and Yadier Molina — to one single in nine at-bats. Combined with the results against the bullpen, the trio is now 5-for-33, a .151 average, in the series, all singles, with a combined one run and no RBIs. Cain finally retired Carpenter for the first time on a groundout in the sixth.
Kyle Lohse, the Cardinals’ most consistent starter during the regular season, struggled with his control but still managed to limit the Giants to one run through the first 5 2/3 innings. Lohse walked five batters, one intentionally, the most he had walked in a game since May 8, 2008, while allowing seven hits. The only San Francisco run scored in the third, when Angel Pagan and Scutaro opened the inning with a single and double, respectfully, before Pagan scored on a groundout by Pablo Sandoval.
Lohse needed 107 pitches to get through 5 2/3 innings. He left after consecutive hits by Brandon Crawford and Cain in the sixth, but the threat died when Trevor Rosenthal relieved and got Pagan to hit into a force out.
The Giants’ frustrations continued after Lohse left, as they stranded two more runners in the seventh, making the total 11 for the game, at least one in each of the first seven innings, before Motte retired the Giants in order in the final two innings after the rain delay for the save.
NOTES: Cardinals manager Mike Matheny was the catcher for Matt Cain’s MLB debut on Aug. 29, 2005 against Colorado. Matheny caught Cain a total of 14 times in 2005-2006 before his retirement as a player. … The first hit Cain allowed in the majors was a home run to Matt Holliday, the fourth batter he faced. … The Cardinals played their first postseason game at home since Oct. 8, a span of nine days, having played the last three games of the Division Series at Washington and the first two games of the NLCS at San Francisco. … Adam Wainwright will start for the first time in an NLCS in game four on Thursday for the Cardinals. He pitched in three games, all in relief, and earned two saves in the 2006 NLCS against the Mets. Wainwright is 1-4 in six career starts against the Giants in the regular season, with the only win coming in his last start, Aug. 9 this year, when he gave up one run in seven innings. … San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy declined to officially name his starter for Thursday, but it is expected to be Tim Lincecum.