COMMENTARY | Carlos Beltran had a huge night for the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1, but the first two games of the NLCS held more encouraging signs than just the continued dominance of a modern October legend.
Matt Carpenter found himself at the plate. After a horrid NLDS, the Redbirds' all-important leadoff hitter finally found ways to get on base with two walks and a line-drive hit in Game 1. When Beltran drove in two runs to tie the game with a double off the wall, Carpenter was the trailing -- and tying -- runner.
And when Beltran stepped to the plate to end the game with a walkoff RBI in the bottom of the 13th inning, it was Matt Carpenter who worked the walk that moved Daniel Descalso into scoring position and brought Beltran to the plate.
But the Cardinals' grinding leadoff hitter's revival didn't end there.
Stepping into the box in Game 2, Carpenter drilled a leadoff triple into right center to get things started off the game's best left-hander -- and starting pitcher -- Clayton Kershaw.
If Carpenter is ready to ignite the St. Louis offense like he did in the regular season, the Los Angeles Dodgers won't have to worry about that long flight back to St. Louis for Game 6.
The much-maligned St. Louis bench came through. The absence of Allen Craig at first base has become a favorite talking point for talking heads and so-called experts, but it's the impact his injury has had on the bench that has most fans concerned.
Without Matt Adams coming off the bench in key pinch-hit situations, the Redbirds really don't have a single player that offers any kind of power. But Daniel Descalso would suggest they don't need one.
Because Pete Kozma has been playing near-stellar defense -- and finding ways to contribute offensively -- Descalso, a seasoned postseason veteran, remains available to manager Mike Matheny as a late-inning option. Descalso's availability made all the difference in Game 1.
After getting shutdown by Zack Greinke and the Dodgers' bullpen much of the game, Descalso entered the game and singled softly into left-center. He would later score the winning run on Beltran's clutch hit.
The St. Louis bench may not have pop, but as long as Kozma's play can keep Descalso on the bench, they may be able to make up for it in experience.
Lance Lynn got his groove back. There was a time when Lynn flashed dominance and fire as a postseason reliever. There was also a time when he showed the same as a regular-season starter. Both must seem like a distant memory to the pitcher who struggled mightily in his lone 2013 NLDS start.
Game 1 offered the potentially resurgent pitcher a trip down memory lane.
With the St. Louis bullpen nearly expended -- only Edward Mujica, Kevin Siegrist and Shelby Miller remained -- Lynn entered the longest NLCS game on record and shut down the Dodgers' lineup. His two innings of one-hit ball put him in line for the win and may have contributed greatly to Matheny's decision to hand him the start in Game 4.
Watching Lynn march around the mound with a hungry look in his eyes after a key strikeout in Game 1, turning him loose on the Dodgers' lineup in Game 4 may not be such a bad idea after all.
Carlos Martinez seems to get better with every postseason appearance. Entering Game 1 in the eighth inning as Matheny made bullpen moves as if the Cardinals had a lead, baby Pedro threw a scoreless, hitless inning. He showed poise, control and that ever-present confidence.
The same mound presence was on display in the eighth inning of Game 2 when Martinez struck out his only two batters -- Mark Ellis and Adrian Gonzalez -- on eight total pitches.
Combined with successful outings from Seth Maness and Randy Choate -- and a pure-octane moment of complete and utter dominance from young closer Trevor Rosenthal -- the Cardinals' bullpen looks to be hitting its stride at just the right time.
The Cardinals are playing as one unit with a single goal. Listening to postgame interviews, it struck me that A.J. Ellis, Dodgers catcher, said the thing that personally bothered him the most was not being able to get the win for Zack Greinke, considering how well the starter was throwing.
That's a great sentiment from a catcher -- in game 132 of the regular season. In October, personal achievements are tossed out the window in favor of one, simple stat -- team wins. Just look across the diamond to see what I'm talking about.
After turning a would-be single into a triple with Game 1 on the line, Jon Jay must have wanted to atone for his mistake on the upcoming potential sac-fly hit soaring between himself and Carlos Beltran. But Jay put the team ahead of his own concerns and stepped aside so Beltran could gun down the runner at the plate and save the game.
And later, when asked about what he was thinking during his at-bat in the 13th inning, Matt Carpenter said he was only thinking of getting the game to Beltran.
An All-Star leadoff hitter at the plate, the league leader in doubles and hits for the season, with a chance to live out his dreams as a 10-year old boy and drive in the winning run in a postseason game -- and Carpenter focuses only on handing the opportunity to the next guy.
Because the next guy stood the best chance of getting the team a win.
Contrast that statement with Ellis' comments after Game 2 -- that all of the Dodgers' hitters want to be that guy that comes through -- and the difference in approach is striking. There's certainly nothing wrong with wanting to be the guy that drives in the big run for your team, but the Cardinals' attitude is one formed from consistent playoff appearances.
Just keep the line moving. Get the at-bat to the next guy. And trust the men behind you to get the job done.
Strap in, Cardinals fans. This team may be putting together something special.
Kevin Reynolds is the author of Stl Cards 'N Stuff, host of The State of the Nation Address podcast and occasional co-host of UCB Radio. He's been writing and podcasting about the St. Louis Cardinals since 2007 and can be found chatting about baseball on Twitter (@deckacards).
- Sports & Recreation
- Carlos Beltran
- Matt Carpenter
- Daniel Descalso