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Big League Stew

NLCS Game 3: Matt Carpenter’s blast and strong bullpen help Cardinals retake series lead

Mark Townsend
Big League Stew

Score and situation: The St. Louis Cardinals overcame Carlos Beltran's early exit, an effective Matt Cain and a 3-hour, 28-minute rain delay to secure a pivotal 3-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday. They now hold a 2-1 advantage in the series heading into Thursday night's Game 4 at Busch Stadium.

Leading lads: Filling in for the injured Beltran, Matt Carpenter made an immediate impact when he connected for a two-run home run off Matt Cain in the third. Relievers Trevor Rosenthal and Mitchell Boggs were also key contributors in the win, wiggling out of separate jams in the sixth and seventh innings while bridging the gap to Jason Motte.

Manager Mike Matheny asked his closer to record six outs, and Motte responded by setting them down in order to earn the first postseason six-out save by a Cardinals pitcher since Steve Kline in the 2001 NLDS.

Head hangers: Hunter Pence was at the center of San Francisco's two biggest wasted opportunities. Even though they broke through for a run in the third, they had a chance for a bigger inning after Matheny elected to intentionally walk Buster Posey to put runners at the corners. Hunter Pence proceeded to ground into an inning ending double play to kill that threat. In the seventh, it was Pence and Brandon Belt both going down on strikes with two runners on base. Pence ended up 0 for 4 on the afternoon. Belt was 0 for 3 with a walk. The Giants as a team were 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position after starting the series 7 for 20.

Key play: Matt Carpenter's home run was the turning point and an emotional lift for St. Louis. But one play that might end up overlooked was Matt Holliday holding Pablo Sandoval to a single on a ball the Kung Fu Panda smoked off the left-field wall in the seventh inning. That changed the entire outlook on the inning, and guaranteed Buster Posey's single that followed did not score the game-tying run. Of course the Giants left both runners stranded.

Interesting Stat: The Giants experienced weather delays totaling 188 minutes during the regular season. The delay in Game 3 was 208 minutes.

What they'll be talking about: The status of Carlos Beltran's knee will get a lot of attention because his absence changes the dynamic of the Cardinals lineup completely. Granted, after Carpenter's home run you almost get the sense St. Louis can plug any player in at any position and it'll somehow work out for them, but this has to be viewed realistically. The Cardinals depth and postseason magic would be put to the ultimate test if Beltran misses time or is limited going forward.

What's next: The Cardinals will look to take a commanding 3-1 series lead in Thursday's Game 4, which is scheduled to begin at 8:07 p.m. ET. To get it, they'll need a bounce-back performance from Adam Wainwright, who was unable to get through four innings in the winner-take-all Game 5 against the Washington Nationals. Bruce Bochy confirmed late Wednesday night that he will turn to Tim Lincecum on Thursday and Barry Zito will make the start in Game 5.

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