Despite hitting woes, Cards keep grinding out wins
ST. LOUIS -- Neither wind nor rain nor the San Francisco Giants and Matt Cain could stop the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday.
Once again, the Cardinals, who are struggling mightily at the plate, found a way to win as they dodged Giants' hits, raindrops and lightning that delayed the game three hours, 28 minutes, and overcame an injury to outfielder Carlos Beltran, their most productive hitter, who's batting .375 in this National League Championship Series. Beltran owns the highest batting average and slugging percentage in postseason history.
As this series reaches its crucial stages with Game 4 on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, FOX), when the Giants give two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum a chance to make up for his 15-loss season, there has to be concern in the St. Louis camp about the club's lack of hitting. The Cards are batting just .198 in the series.
But if Wednesday's marathon was an indication, they'll make the most of the situation.
This should tell a lot about this Cardinals juggernaut: Beltran left with a left knee strain after grounding into a double play in the first inning. When his replacement trotted out to right field, there was a sigh among the 45,850 red-clad paying customers.
But don't forget, these are the magical Cardinals who are building on their reputation of pulling rabbits -- oops -- wins out of the hat. Don't forget, they're defending a World Series title.
Enter rookie Matt Carpenter -- the lesser-known Carpenter on this team. He owns Cain. Taking over for Beltran, Carpenter blasted a two-run homer in his first at-bat in the third and gave the Cards a 2-1 advantage, with the threat of heavy rains and the determined Giants staring them in the face.
St. Louis, up 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, went on to win, 3-1, but it was Carpenter who sent Cain's slider screaming over the wall in right-center that gave his teammates all the runs they would need on the long night.
As the middle of the St. Louis batting order has yet to drive in a run, you have to wonder how the game, which began at 3:08 p.m. CT and didn't end until 9:39 p.m., would have turned out.
Carpenter is 5-for-6 with four RBIs against the Giants' No. 1 pitcher.
That the Cardinals seem to always find a way was never more prevalent as they walked the 2-1 tightrope until the seventh, when they added a run and seemingly mounted a rally when the skies opened. They scored a run just before play was stopped, and that's how it ended hours later.
Starter Kyle Lohse, their ace, was continually pitching out of trouble and behind in the count, but he was rescued by two double plays that snuffed San Francisco scoring opportunities. Lohse walked five batters. And in the seventh, with one out and runners on second and third, flamethrower Mitchell Boggs struck out Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt.
The Giants were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and 0-for-4 with runners on and two out. They outhit the Cards, 9-6, but left 11 runners on base.
What has to concern St. Louis skipper Mike Matheny is lack of output from Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and Yadier Molina.
Craig, batting cleanup, is hitless, and as a group, the "meat" of the batting order is 5-for-33 and has yet to drive in a run.
Yes, Matheny said, he'd like to see more from the middle of his order and expects it before the postseason is over. Yet he has to feel relieved his team could win as it did Wednesday, when Lohse, struggling with his control -- he allowed 12 baserunners in 5 2/3 innings -- could win.
Mostly because the Giants were shut down and Carpenter, in his first at-bat in the NLCS, came through. The bullpen blanked the Giants in the final 3 1/3 innings.
Craig says it's a matter of picking up each other.
"That was huge," he said of Carpenter's homer. "It couldn't have come at a better time, with Carlos going down."
Carpenter, who had just 12 at-bats last season, had six homers in 296 at-bats this season.
"This is a frustrating game for the fellows," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "They did a really good job. We just couldn't get the line moving and get a run in."
Matheny pointed to the third as somewhat typical of how the Cardinals have made this a successful season. With a run in, one out and runners on first and third, Lohse got Pence to bounce into the double play.
"That's huge to get out of that with just one run. And almost a momentum shifter," said Matheny. "After that, Carp comes in and does his thing. It all starts with our starting pitching."
That Carpenter can pick up the slack when the big guns are off their game is a reason the Cardinals manage tough wins.
To David Freese, that shouldn't be a surprise.
"It's expected, the way Matt Carpenter prepares himself," said Freese. "He works his tail off. He'd probably be starting on so many teams in this league. I know he's glad to be a Cardinal and comes to the park ready to go better than anybody who doesn't know his situation that day.
"Matt Carpenter showed what type of guy he was today -- unfazed. The guys that have been around here all year know that the guy just steps in -- no matter what position, no matter where he's hitting -- and gets it done."
Bochy called Wednesday's game extremely important for the Giants because they had Cain, their ace who pitched a perfect game during the regular season, on the mound.
"We felt it was an important game, no getting around it," Bochy said. "And we got a great effort from Matt. Really, he pitched well. He hung the slider and it went for a home run. He gave us a chance to win."
Even with most of the Cards searching for their batting strokes, the Giants have to be leery.
The Cardinals don't want to admit it, but the trademark of this team is that at the darkest hour, it finds a way to win.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.