A true Carpenter and a Carpenter in spirit took center stage in Busch Stadium last night. When that happens, good things usually result and now the Cards are one game away from their fourth straight NLCS, which as far as I could tell would be the second-longest streak ever, only eclipsed by the eight game run the Braves had in the ’90s.
It’s too bad that divisional series don’t have an MVP, because if St. Louis wins either tonight or Thursday, there is no doubt that title would be bestowed on Matt Carpenter. We know what he did in Game One (homer and huge three-run double) and Game Two (game-tying homer). Last night, he hit a home run for the third straight night plus tacked on a double later on. His homer put the Cardinals in the lead and, while they would eventually relinquish it, it still was a huge moment.
Some Cardinal fans took to Twitter before the game and expressed the opinion that John Lackey “had a little Chris Carpenter in him”. That bulldog mentality, that ability to rise to the biggest of moments, all that we were accustomed to getting out of a New Englander. (Sure, Lackey is from Texas, but he PLAYED in New England!)
That came through last night. Lackey threw seven innings, allowed only five hits and one run, and struck out eight in a masterful performance. As we’ve said before, the postseason is what John Mozeliak made that trade for and right now, it’s looking like a smart deal. No matter what Joe Kelly and Allen Craig may do in the future, if Lackey pitches well and the Cards win the title, it’s a win for St. Louis. Flags fly forever, as you know.
And yet the biggest moment didn’t come from either of these guys, but a guy that needed his own brand of redemption. Kolten Wong will never fully erase being picked off in the World Series, but more moments like last night’s home run will force that pickoff to that curiosity corner of his career rather than front and center, defining him. I didn’t get to watch the game until the very end, but seeing the replays of him joyously going around the bases, the emotion he had coming into the dugout, all of that was such a great thing to see. Nobody will remember he hit into two double plays in this game. That home run will likely be part of his legacy forever.
The Cardinals had a number of chances to tack on after Wong’s home run, having the bases loaded later in the seventh as well as in the eighth, but they were unable to capitalize. They probably could have in that latter instance had not J.P. Howell made an outstanding play on Wong’s liner up the middle. If that gets past the pitcher, there’s a good chance Wong could have at least beat it out and a run scored. Instead, it went 1-2-3 and that left a two-run lead for Trevor Rosenthal to try to close out.
If you are going to give the save to anyone, perhaps you should give it to the grounds crew. Rosenthal got the first out, then gave up a solid single to Hanley Ramirez, which is understandable. After all, Ramirez had three hits in the game including that one and tends to be able to hit the Cardinals (as well as most other teams) well. He then got ahead of Carl Crawford, but Crawford eventually just stuck his bat out and hit a flare over Wong’s head. Two on, one out and stomachs are churning all over Cardinal Nation. (Fair disclosure, I turned it on around Wong’s double play and watched the ninth. I think I’ll try not to watch any of today’s game, make sure it’s not me.)
After throwing wild to go to 2-0 on Juan Uribe, Mike Matheny comes out and gets the grounds crew to fix up the mound a little bit. Rosenthal then threw five pitches, four for strikes and two of which wound up in the glove of Randal Grichuk. Perhaps the drying powder they put out there sucked up some of Rosenthal’s messiness as well. More than anything, the time waiting around seemed to help Rosenthal calm down a bit and come after the hitters a little more.
Beyond a sweep (which was oh-so-close), this is where you’d want to be as a Cardinal fan, but Dodger fans aren’t exactly standing on window ledges. After all, if you are from LA you are thinking the Redbirds have to beat Clayton Kershaw or Zack Greinke and it’s perfectly reasonable that those two guys can win back-to-back games, as they’ve done it all season long.
We know the Cardinal history with Kershaw, which is why I was a bit surprised that the Dodgers wanted him to go out there on short rest. St. Louis has been able to put up runs on a fully rested Kershaw, so what could they do with one that threw just three days ago? That said, Kershaw also was pretty dominant in that first game for most of it, putting down 16 in a row. If he does that again, there’s no doubt Don Mattingly will go to his bullpen quicker. The Cards have done OK on that bullpen so far, however, so that might not be a terrible thing.
Look, today’s a tough game. Anyone that has followed the Cardinals and seen 3-1 leads disappear isn’t going to be impressed with a 2-1 version. Thankfully, the Cardinal pitching should be up for the task. You’ve got a rested Adam Wainwright going in Game 5, if necessary, but today you put it on Shelby Miller.
Small sample size of course, but that’s not real encouraging there. Then again, Crawford owned Lackey, we said yesterday, and he went 0-3 last night against him. Miller’s seen the Dodgers twice this year, but they were not part of that late season run of good starts, so whatever adjustments Miller has made may counteract some of this history against him. Miller gave up six runs in five innings to LA in their park in June, with the big blow a three-run homer by Andre Ethier. He also pitched a scoreless inning-plus in relief when the Dodgers were in St. Louis right after the All-Star Break, but even that was shaky as he gave up a hit that was erased on a double play, then started the next frame with a double and a walk before being pulled. What we have to hope is that the new and improved Shelby Miller, the one we saw from the end of August on, will be the one that shows up tonight.
It’s as close to a must-win as you can get when you are leading a series. Going back to Los Angeles and having to figure out Greinke isn’t exactly how we’d want to see this end, even with Wainwright on the other side. Let’s hope by tonight we’re watching the Giants/Nationals game as a scouting trip!