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Sports

Cardinals 8, Nationals 0

Carpenter pitches Cardinals past Nationals

Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter pitched scoreless baseball into the sixth inning against the Nationals.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter pitched scoreless baseball into the sixth inning against the Nationals.

WASHINGTON — Chris Carpenter was every bit the postseason ace he’s been in the past for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Taking the mound for only the fourth time in 2012, missing a rib after surgery to cure numbness on his right side, the 37-year-old Carpenter pitched scoreless ball into the sixth inning, rookie Pete Kozma delivered a three-run homer, and the defending champion Cardinals beat the Washington Nationals, 8-0, Wednesday to take a 2-1 lead in their National League Division Series.

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‘‘If the baseball world doesn’t know what an amazing competitor he is by now, they haven’t been paying any attention,’’ Carpenter’s teammate Matt Holliday said.

All in all, it was quite a damper on the day for a Nationals Park-record 45,017 red-wearing, towel-twirling fans witnessing the first major league postseason game in the nation’s capital in 79 years.

Three relievers finished the shutout for the Cardinals, who can end the best-of-five series Thursday in Washington.

‘‘We’re not out of this, by a long shot,’’ Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. ‘‘Shoot, I’ve had my back to worse walls than this.’’

Kyle Lohse will start for St. Louis. Ross Detwiler pitches for Washington, which is sticking to its long-stated plan of keeping Stephen Strasburg on the sideline the rest of the way.

The Cardinals won 10 fewer games than the Nationals and finished second in the NL Central, nine games behind Cincinnati, sneaking into the postseason as the league’s second wild card under this year’s new format. But the Cardinals become a different bunch in the high-pressure playoffs — no matter that slugger Albert Pujols and manager Tony La Russa are no longer around.

Carpenter still is, even though even he didn’t expect to be pitching this year when he encountered problems during spring training and needed an operation in July to correct a nerve problem. The top rib on his right side was removed, along with connecting muscles.

He returned Sept. 21, going 0-2 in three starts totaling 17 innings, so it wasn’t clear how he’d fare Wednesday.

Yeah, right.

‘‘I’m not going to go out there and compete,’’ Carpenter said, ‘‘if I’m not good enough to compete.’’

Carpenter allowed seven hits and walked two in 5 innings to improve to 10-2 over his career in the postseason.

With the exception of Ian Desmond — 3 for 4 on Wednesday, 7 for 12 in the series — the Nationals’ hitters are struggling mightily. They’ve scored a total of seven runs in the playoffs and went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position and left 11 men on base in Game 3.

Bryce Harper’s woes, in particular, stand out: He went 0 for 5, dropping to 1 for 15. He went to the plate with an ash bat and no gloves in the first inning, tried wearing anti-glare tinted contact lenses on a sunny afternoon — nothing helped.

‘‘Carp’s been a dominant pitcher his whole career. Big-game pitcher. He showed up,’’ Washington’s Jayson Werth said. ‘‘He pitched well today.”

Carpenter was pretty good with a bat in his hands, too, collecting a pair of hits, including a double off the wall that was about a foot or two away from being a homer. When he reached second base, he raised his right fist.

Similarly, neither club could be sure which Edwin Jackson would show up for NL East champion Washington, a year after he was part of the Cardinals’ championship team: The one who struck out 10 and allowed one unearned run in eight innings against St. Louis Aug. 30, or the one who lasted only 1 innings in a loss to the Cardinals Sept. 28.

Much closer to the second version, it turned out, although he did recover from a rough start to retire eight of his last 10 batters Wednesday.

Still, Jackson was done after five innings and four runs.

‘‘I didn’t feel like I was out of rhythm. I didn’t feel like I couldn’t throw strikes. I just missed across the plate with a couple of balls and it cost me,’’ Jackson said.

The Cardinals tacked on four runs off relievers Craig Stammen, Christian Garcia, and Ryan Mattheus.

The Cardinals opened the second with four consecutive hits, the biggest being Kozma’s first-pitch homer into the first row in left off a 94-mile-per-hour fastball to make it 4-0.

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