ST. LOUIS — Maybe it takes two Carpenters to build a second championship season in a row. If that’s the case, the Cardinals have them.
There’s Chris Carpenter, the grizzled veteran of the Cardinals rotation, and there’s rookie utilityman Matt Carpenter, who entered Wednesday’s NLCS Game 3 in right field as a replacement for Carlos Beltran, who left the game after one at-bat with a strain of his left knee. Carpenter belted what proved to be the game-winning two-run homer on a 2-2 slider from Matt Cain in the third inning.
“It was definitely a surprise,” said Carpenter, who helped the Cardinals to a 3-1 win, putting them ahead in the series, two games to one. “I didn’t even realize Carlos had hurt himself. Next thing you know Mike [Matheny] came up to me and told me to grab my glove and I was going in right field. There was no thought process. It happened so quickly.”
Carpenter, 26, a former Texas Christian University star and a native of Sugar Land, Tex., said despite having entered the game 4 for 4 against Cain, “There’s no explanation. He’s one of the best in the game. Every at-bat against him has been tough. There’s always a battle. Seems like he’s always ahead of me. I was down, 0 and 2, on the count and worked it back to 2-2 and he threw a slider and I was able to put a good swing on it.”
Cain said, “I made a bad pitch. I was trying to get the slider in and I left it over the plate. This one is on me.”
According to Matheny, the red-hot Beltran, “has a left knee issue. He’s had some issues on and off all season, on and off his whole career. He came back down to the tunnel and he wasn’t doing well.”
Carpenter’s parents drove nine hours from Sugar Land to watch their son be the hero. Carpenter’s father was his high school coach.
Matheny had been asked before the game about trying to get Carpenter some playing time, especially against Cain. Carpenter said he entered with the thought, “Maybe I get a pinch-hitting opportunity late in the game. Obviously, I didn’t think the third inning.”
The game was interrupted by a 3- hour-28-minute rain delay in the bottom of the seventh after the Cardinals had scored their third run on a bases-loaded ground out by pinch hitter Shane Robinson.
With two out, David Freese doubled against Cain, Daniel Descalso was intentionally walked, and Pete Kozma singled to load the bases.
Robinson’s grounder was fielded cleanly by second baseman Marco Scutaro, but he had problems getting the ball out of his glove as he looked toward home. He was able to get the out at first base. That’s when the grounds crew raced for the tarp as a severe weather front — strong winds, heavy rain, and lightning, which had held out a bit longer than expected, swept through Busch Stadium.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy didn’t think Scutaro had a chance at throwing out the runner at the plate anyway.
“It would have been close,” he said. “You can’t have a better or smarter second baseman than Marco. He thought about going home but he knew it was too risky. It was a big run, but as you saw, we couldn’t score again. Their pen did a great job.”
Jason Motte earned the first two-inning save of his career.
“I just took the ball and I just keep going until they take it away from me,” Motte said. “I felt great. I can definitely do that again if I need to. I’ll do anything this time of the year. We all want to win and we’re all going to do our part and whatever it takes.”
The Giants took a 1-0 lead in the third when Angel Pagan singled and Scutaro, returning to the lineup after suffering a left hip injury following a takeout slide at second early in Game 2, doubled to right, sending Pagan to third. The run scored on Pablo Sandoval’s ground out.
The Cardinals answered in the bottom of the third to take the lead. Jon Jay singled with two outs, and went to second on a throwing error by Cain on a pickoff attempt. He came home on Carpenter’s blast.
Scutaro made a quick recovery for Game 3. He had left Game 2 after he delivered a key two-run single, but his hip and left knee began to stiffen and he went for X-rays and an MRI, both of which were negative. Scutaro showed up at Tuesday’s workout here determined to play Wednesday night.
He wasn’t out of the woods until he showed the training staff that he could move well enough during infield practice and in batting practice. Scutaro went 2 for 5 and improved his postseason average to .462.
Major League Baseball officials watched the weather closely in the pregame. There was major concern by both managers about starting the game and then having it stopped early on with the teams wasting their starting pitchers.
But the game started on time and as it turned out, it went for a while before they had to stop it.
When play resumed both starting pitchers were gone. Cain went 6⅔ innings and allowed three runs on six hits. Kyle Lohse pitched very well for the Cardinals, going 5⅔ innings, allowing seven hits and five walks but only one run.
The Giants had numerous opportunities, but they never came up with the big hit. It was a far cry from their 7-1 trouncing of the Cardinals in Game 2.
With two outs in the sixth, Lohse allowed a single to Brandon Crawford and one to Cain, but Trevor Rosenthal got Pagan to ground into a force out.