ST. LOUIS — Matt Carpenter came in batting .158 in the postseason, and he already had struck out in his first at-bat of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Friday night, so he seemed determined to start something when he faced Clayton Kershaw the next time.
Carpenter certainly did, staying alive with eight foul balls and putting the 11th pitch of the confrontation into play for a hard double to right field. Carpenter's effort started Kershaw's unraveling and sparked the St. Louis Cardinals, who batted around in a decisive four-run third inning and routed the Los Angeles Dodgers 9-0 to advance to the World Series.
With one out in the third, Carpenter went to work, taking the first pitch for ball. He fouled off three straight fastballs, then a curve, then two sliders, then another fastball. Seven fouls a row, staying alive. After taking another fastball for ball two, he fouled off the 10th pitch to, again, stay alive. Then he got a slider he could handle.
"I’ll remember that it was against the best pitcher in baseball," said Carpenter, whose successful at-bat seemed like the first number of a combination the Cardinals were on their way to solving. By the time Dodgers manager Don Mattingly gave Kershaw the hook in the fifth inning, he had allowed seven runs and 10 hits.
Clayton Kershaw allowed four earned runs in only three of his 33 starts for #dodgers during the regular season.
— Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) October 19, 2013
Watching from the bench, right-hander Adam Wainwright said he has been on the business end of at-bats like Carpenter's before.
"I told Chris Carpenter, I thought that was the key at-bat of the whole game," Wainwright said. "If Kershaw gets two outs and nobody on, it’s going to be tough to score on him. Matt worked him, worked him, worked him. Fouled off some really tough pitches. Then hooked a tough slider down into the corner. His double starts things off and the rest is history.
"You need big at-bats like that to win these games over the course of a postseason series."
Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis agreed, saying Carpenter's at-bat was a turning point.
"He really wore him down, he really grinded right there," Ellis said. "Matt Carpenter, it’s what he’s done all season long. He led the National League in hits, he makes that lineup go. When he’s getting on base, it makes it tough to pitch through that stretch with Carlos Beltran and Matty Holliday and Yadi Molina."
Kershaw, understandably glum, wasn't persuaded that Carpenter's at-bat was the end-all, be-all moment.
"I don't think it would have mattered if I had got him out," Kershaw said.
Carpenter came around to score on an RBI single to right by the next man up, Beltran. Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig made an awkward-looking throw home that was cut off by first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who fumbled the ball, allowing Beltran to reach second safely.
After Matt Holliday struck out, Molina brought in the second run with an RBI single to make it 2-0. David Freese found a hole with another single and Matt Adams walked — after it appeared Kershaw had him struck out — to load the bases.
Shane Robinson, inserted into the lineup for Jon Jay, found another hole with a two-run single to right. Puig came up throwing hard this time, and fired the ball over Ellis' head. Kershaw escaped further damage.
Gonzalez differed from those who blamed Puig (or even himself) for making things tougher on Kershaw.
"That wasn’t that damaging," Gonzalez said. "Robinson’s hit was tougher to take. All they needed was the one run, the way we swung the bats today."
And Carpenter was the guy who scored first.
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