Cardinals blast past Dodgers in Game 3 for 2-1 series lead

Matt Carpenter homered for the third consecutive game -- the first Cardinal ever to do so in a single postseason series. 

Jeff Roberson/AP

ST. LOUIS — Starting left-handed-hitting Kolten Wong against a left-hander was not a slam-dunk decision for the Cardinals on Monday night.

But playing Wong proved to be a winning decision when he slugged a two-run homer in the seventh inning that broke a 1-1 tie, lifted the Cardinals to a 3-1 victory over the Dodgers and put them one win away from reaching the National League Championship Series for the fourth straight year.

They will try to clinch the NL Division Series on Tuesday afternoon against Clayton Kershaw. Shelby Miller will make his first postseason start for the Cardinals.

Wong had gone 0 for 2 against lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, but he belted the first pitch he saw from lefty reliever Scott Elbert 407 feet into the right-field bullpen. Yadier Molina had led off the inning with a double.

Before the game, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny explained the decision to go with Wong. "We like the at-bats that Kolten is taking and we like him in the lineup," he said. "We don’t necessarily rule him out every time there’s a lefty on the mound. He’s had some success against left‑handed pitching (.315 batting average against lefties)."

Cardinals right-hander John Lackey went seven innings and, like Ryu, allowed only one run. The Dodgers, however, ran into trouble once they turned the game over to their bullpen. For the Cardinals, closer Trevor Rosenthal and Pat Neshek each worked a scoreless inning to make sure Wong’s blast would be the difference.

3 UP

— Matt Carpenter. The Dodgers haven’t been able to stop the Cardinals’ leadoff man, or even slow him much. Carpenter became the first Cardinal to homer in three straight games of a single series when he knocked a 1-2 changeup into the right-field bleachers to lead off the bottom of the third. The All-Star third baseman has also doubled in three straight games. Coming into Game 3, Carpenter was hitting .500 (4 for 8) in the series while the rest of the Cardinals were batting .178 (11 for 59).

MORE ON THE CARDINALS

— Early escapes. Lackey allowed leadoff singles in the first and second but did not allow a run in either. In the first, Dee Gordon singled and, one pitch later, promptly stole second without drawing a throw from Molina. Though two-hole hitter Yasiel Puig struck out, Gordon advanced on a passed ball to reach third with one out. But Lackey retired Adrian Gonzalez on a fly to left that wasn’t deep enough to score Gordon and then Matt Kemp, the hero of Game 2, flied to center to end the threat. In the second, Hanley Ramirez singled and moved to second on a two-out single by A.J. Ellis before Lackey struck out Ryu.

— Neshek. He rebounded from his Game 2 loss by putting the Dodgers away in order in the eighth inning. Gordon led off with a hard line drive that went right to first baseman Matt Adams. Neshek then struck out Puig — his eighth K in his past nine at-bats — and retired Gonzalez on a lazy fly to left.

3 DOWN

— Hitting Ryu. The Dodgers’ starter had pitched only one inning in the past 30 days, and had allowed four runs in it. But other than Carpenter’s homer, the lefty shut down the Cardinals’ offense. Ryu allowed only one other Cardinal to reach scoring position in six innings of work while allowing five hits and walking one. His fastball wasn’t overpowering, reaching 92 mph, but he used his curve and changeup to keep the Cardinals off balance.

— Stopping Ellis. With a single and a walk against Lackey, the Dodgers’ catcher has reached base at least twice in all three games. He hit .191 in the regular season but dealt with leg issues for most of it. Based on his 6-for-11 showing in the first three games, his legs aren’t bothering him now.

— Easy ninth innings. Rosenthal earned his second save of the series, but like the first one, he ran into some adventure. After striking out Kemp looking to begin the ninth, Rosenthal gave up singles to Ramirez and Carl Crawford to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. But he then was able to retire Juan Uribe and Ellis on fly-outs to right field.

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @StanMcNeal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.