Rookie Carpenter makes most of opportunity
ST. LOUIS – Matt Carpenter arrived at Busch Stadium late Wednesday morning not expecting to see his name in the starting lineup. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has started the same eight players the entire postseason, so he didn't expect him to change things up now.
And he didn't. Despite Carpenter's having a perfect 4-for-4 career mark off Giants starter Matt Cain, the role player started the game where he had for each of the previous eight playoff games: the bench.
This game didn't play out like the others, though. A knee strain forced Carlos Beltran from the game after just one inning, and Carpenter was sent into right field as his replacement for the top of the second.
The next inning, he contributed the eventual game-winning hit with a two-run homer into the seats in right, helping the Cardinals beat the Giants, 3-1, and take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven NLCS.
"Obviously, all season long I've realized what my role is on this team, and I just try to do that to the best of my ability," Carpenter said. "When I get in there, I just try to have quality at-bats and compete and do the things I know I'm capable of doing.
"It came out of nowhere. I didn't even realize he had hurt himself and Mike came up to me and told me to grab my glove go to right and the next thing you know I'm in the game."
Carpenter hit .294 in 114 games for the Cardinals during the regular season and had 296 at-bats while playing five different positions. The utility man started games at first base, second base, third base, left field and right field and held his own at each spot.
But his playing time has decreased significantly since the postseason began. He had just five at-bats, all pinch-hit appearances, before entering the Wednesday's game.
The rookie's first at-bat came in the bottom of the third inning after the Giants had just taken a 1-0 lead in the top of the inning. Leadoff man Jon Jay singled with two outs to extend the inning to Carpenter.
It was a rematch of an at-bat from Aug. 8, when Carpenter came through with a two-run, pinch-hit single off Cain in the sixth inning to knock him from the game and give him four hits in four lifetime at-bats against the ace.
Carpenter got the best of Cain again Wednesday, battling back from an 0-2 count to turn around a 2-2 slider and deposit it 421 feet away into the seats above the Cardinals bullpen.
"It's been tough to get him at bats, but for him to come in a huge spot like that, I'm thinking Beltran goes down, what are we going to do here, and he steps up and gets the job done," said starter Kyle Lohse, who allowed one run in 5 2/3 innings. "It was awesome to watch.
"It speaks a lot about his character to be able to be ready and be the man on the spot. He would probably start for anybody else, but he does a good job coming off the bench. To come in there after I give up the run to bounce back with a two-run inning like that was a huge pickup for myself."
Third baseman David Freese said: "He works his tail off and could probably be starting on a lot of teams in this league, but he's glad to be a Cardinal and he comes to the park ready to go better than anybody that I've seen.
"Matt Carpenter showed what type of guy he was today. Unfazed. The guy just steps in no matter what position no matter where he's hitting and gets it done."
And the night was a little extra special for Carpenter. His parents, Rick and Tammie, made the 600-mile drive from Prosper, Texas, earlier Wednesday and were in the stands to witness a night their family will surely never forget.
The Cardinals added an insurance run in the seventh inning and, after a 3-hour, 28-minute rain delay, finished off the Giants to move to within two wins of their second consecutive World Series appearance.
Beltran's prognosis was encouraging, and it appears he could return to the starting lineup for Game 4 on Thursday. But if he doesn't, expect Carpenter to be ready.
"We take a lot of pride that we have guys that can fill voids when things happen," Carpenter said. "We know that our bench is good and something we have a lot of pride in.
"I was just trying to battle. I was just trying to fight and have a quality at-bat and work the count back into my favor and I got a good pitch and put a good swing on it. It was crazy. … I can't explain it."