John Lackey was just as advertised for the St. Louis Cardinals. Their postseason power surge has been a big surprise.
Kolten Wong hit a two-run homer to snap a seventh-inning tie, Matt Carpenter went deep for the third straight game and Lackey pitched St. Louis past the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-1 Monday night to give the Cardinals a 2-1 lead in their best-of-five NL Division Series.
"Well, we just kind of knew what we were going to get," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "He wants the ball. He proves it by how he goes out and throws."
Facing elimination in St. Louis for the second consecutive postseason, the Dodgers will turn to ace Clayton Kershaw on short rest Tuesday night in Game 4. Shelby Miller makes his first playoff start for the Cardinals, one win from a fourth straight trip to the NL Championship Series.
The Cardinals finished off Los Angeles in a six-game NLCS last fall, knocking out Kershaw in the fifth inning of a 9-0 blowout in the final game.
Two runners reached against Trevor Rosenthal in the ninth before he earned his second save of the series — with an assist from the grounds crew on a rainy night.
Rosenthal said he was unable to find his footing, missing badly on consecutive pitches to Juan Uribe, before the grounds crew applied a drying agent and raked the mound. The right-hander then threw a pair of practice pitches and regained his stride, retiring the next two batters on flies to right for his sixth career postseason save.
Hanley Ramirez had three of the Dodgers’ seven hits, including an RBI double in the sixth.
Lackey, acquired from Boston at the trade deadline, gave up five hits in seven innings with eight strikeouts. The veteran right-hander improved to 7-5 in postseason play, including three wins for the Red Sox last year — one against St. Louis in the World Series.
"I think there’s definitely different energy, different adrenaline level. And that can take you to special places when you use it the right way," Lackey said. "The atmosphere tonight was great. Fans were unbelievable. You feel that. You feed off that. If you channel it the right way, it can definitely help you out."
Asked what made the 35-year-old Lackey so tough, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly mentioned plate umpire Dale Scott.
"I thought Dale was very generous," Mattingly said. "We had a lot of guys complaining about the strike zone. We felt like he was really generous, and that puts you in a bind.
"You can’t go too far with it, but really generous."
St. Louis hit 105 homers in the regular season, the second-lowest total in the majors, ahead of only Kansas City. But the Cardinals have shown plenty of power in the playoffs, scoring 10 of their 15 runs on six homers in three games.
Carpenter connected in the third and then Wong, the rookie second baseman who was picked off to end a World Series loss against Boston last year, hit a two-run shot off loser Scott Elbert to put the Cardinals ahead 3-1.
"That pickoff last year definitely crushed me for a long time throughout the offseason," Wong said. "But it was something that I definitely look back and I’m not thankful for it, but I know it made me stronger as a person and as a player.
"Once you go through something like that, everything else is a walk in the park."
Carpenter and Wong, both left-handed hitters, connected against left-handed pitchers.
Hyun-Jin Ryu tossed six solid innings for the Dodgers in his first start since a shoulder injury on Sept. 12.
"Pretty amazing, a guy can be off that long and be that sharp," Mattingly said. "He settled down and went farther than we thought."
Heavy rain fell briefly in the bottom of the seventh, when Molina greeted Elbert with a double for his second hit. Molina advanced on a sacrifice before Wong drove the next pitch into the Cardinals’ bullpen in right-center and let out a scream as he rounded first.
"An awesome feeling," he said.
Carpenter had eight homers in the regular season and had never connected in consecutive games before these playoffs. He hammered a 1-2 pitch from Ryu over the right-center wall leading off the third.
Yasiel Puig struck out in seven consecutive at-bats before hitting a leadoff triple in the sixth. Lackey almost got out of it, getting Adrian Gonzalez on a fly to shallow left and striking out Matt Kemp before Ramirez doubled to tie it.
The crowd of 47,574 was the largest for a baseball game at 9-year-old Busch Stadium.
Before the game, Mattingly announced Kershaw will start Game 4 on three days’ rest instead of Dan Haren, the only way Los Angeles has a chance to get two starts apiece out of its twin aces in this series. Zack Greinke would start Game 5 on regular rest in Los Angeles on Thursday night.
"This was certainly kind of a must-win, knowing that we do have Kershaw and Greinke left," Carpenter said.
Kershaw was 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA this season and is a heavy favorite to win his third NL Cy Young Award in four years, but he blew a 6-1 lead in the Cardinals’ 10-9 victory in Game 1.
Dodgers: Kershaw pitched on three days’ rest against Atlanta in the Division Series last fall, allowing two unearned runs over six innings in the Game 4 clincher.
Cardinals: Miller won 15 games as a rookie last year but was left out of the postseason rotation, partly because of workload concerns and partly because he’d struggled against Division Series foe Pittsburgh.
Carpenter and Albert Pujols are the only Cardinals players to homer in three consecutive postseason games. Pujols did it in 2004.
The Cardinals tied for the NL lead with 51 home wins during the regular season, while the Dodgers were the best road team at 49-32.