Bullpen bails out ace as Cards take 2-1 NLCS lead
Far from his best, the Cardinals ace lasted just five innings in a 4-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday night that gave St. Louis a 2-1 edge in the NL championship series.
The bullpen that got no work in Carpenter’s division-series clinching win over Roy Halladay and the Philadelphia Phillies came up aces with four relievers retiring the last 12 Milwaukee batters in order.
“My stuff was OK but these guys worked me hard,” Carpenter said after winning his seventh postseason game to match Gibson’s team mark. “All night long it was a battle. Our bullpen did a phenomenal job to finish it out and we win, and that’s what’s important.”
Albert Pujols had one of three RBI doubles during a four-run first inning against Yovani Gallardo for the wild-card Cardinals, who suddenly are front-runners — and against the team that put them away early en route to the NL Central title.
All thanks to unsung Fernando Salas, Lance Lynn, Marc Rzepczynski and Jason Motte, who struck out three of the four batters he faced for the save.
“They’ve been great, we wouldn’t be here without them,” Lance Berkman said. “Over the course of the regular season they got a lot of blame when things went wrong.
“Now, they need to get a lot of credit.”
The Brewers set a franchise record with 96 victories and took the Central lead for good on July 27. Now, they’ve got to come from behind.
Yuniesky Betancourt’s infield single with one out in the fourth was the last of the Brewers’ six hits. The rest of the way they had only two baserunners.
“I still feel good with our club,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “This is a good club we’re playing and, you know, when you make mistakes like we did the first inning, they were going to get their hits.”
The Brewers have lost eight in a row on the road in the postseason, a stretch that extends to Game 1 of the 1982 World Series in St. Louis on a shutout by Mike Caldwell. It’s the longest current streak in the majors.
The matchup of star pitchers fizzled, with both starters done after five innings. Gallardo tied an NLCS record with three wild pitches, while Carpenter surrendered all but one run of a four-run cushion.
The game was played in a steady drizzle with no squirrel sightings — at least not on the field. In the previous playoff game at Busch Stadium, a squirrel scampered across home plate while the Cardinals were batting against the Phillies’ Roy Oswalt.
The careening critter quickly became a favorite in St. Louis as the Rally Squirrel. The Cardinals’ marketing department capitalized, too, giving away 40,000 rally towels with a squirrel theme, telling fans to “Go Nuts” on the video board and dressing up someone in a squirrel costume to entertain the fans between innings.
Kyle Lohse, pitching on 12 days’ rest, starts Game 4 Thursday for Cardinals against Randy Wolf.
“Hope we don’t lose two in a row just to put our backs up against the wall,” manager Tony La Russa said. “We’re really not going to stop and think about it, because there’s so much yet to do.”
Motte had two saves lasting more than an inning in September and another in Game 2 of the division series against the Phillies. Salas worked the sixth, Lynn also got four outs and Rzepzcynski struck out Fielder in the eighth.
“You know, when that phone rings we get ourselves ready,” Motte said.
The starters’ ineffectiveness was surprising considering their track records. Carpenter has been clutch throughout his career in the postseason, going 7-2 with a 3.14 ERA in 12 games. Gallardo allowed only two runs in 21 innings, a minuscule 0.86 ERA, before Game 3.
The Cardinals scored in the first inning for the fifth straight game, and batted around against Gallardo. Pujols delivered an RBI double after starring in a Game 2 win with a home run and three doubles, and then singled in the second to give him six hits in seven at-bats.
St. Louis had its chances to break away later, but hit into three double plays and stranded nine runners. The Cardinals broke their own National League record for double plays this season.
Mark Kotsay started ahead of slumping Nyjer Morgan and homered for the Brewers. Betancourt had two singles and an RBI and Gallardo, a .221 hitter with a homer and four RBIs, had a sacrifice fly in the second.
Jon Jay and David Freese added RBI doubles in the first for St. Louis, which was 3 for 4 with runners in scoring position to start the game but 0 for 7 the rest of the way.
Gallardo, who’s 1-7 with a 5.66 career mark against the Cardinals, trailed 2-0 after his first 12 pitches and barely made it out of the first trailing 4-0. The right-hander walked three, one of them intentional, and the Brewers had Chris Narveson up in the bullpen before Yadier Molina grounded into a double play, scoring the fourth run, for his first outs.
Gallardo trudged to the dugout after his 33-pitch ordeal, hoping for another chance in the series.
“Yeah, I mean, of course,” Gallardo said. “I look forward to it. I can’t wait and hopefully we’ll get another shot at it.”