ST. LOUIS – Chris Carpenter needed a pick-me-up in the worst way. A bullpen that just sat back and watched the last time the St. Louis Cardinals ace pitched was ready for extended duty.
Albert Pujols hit an RBI double off Yovani Gallardo during a four-run first inning and four St. Louis relievers combined for four perfect innings Wednesday night for a 4-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers and a 2-1 edge in the N.L. championship series.
Suddenly, the wild-card Cardinals are front-runners. And against the team that put them away early en route to the N.L. Central title.
In a matchup of star pitchers, neither starter made it past the fifth inning. Gallardo tied an NLCS record with three wild pitches, while the one-run lead Carpenter handed over to the relievers was just enough to put the Cardinals ahead in the best-of-seven series.
Kyle Lohse, pitching on 12 days’ rest, starts Game 4 tonight for the wild-card Cardinals against Randy Wolf.
“You never know how it’s going to work out,” Carpenter said. “That’s what’s so fun about this game and that’s what’s so fun about pitching. Our guys did a fabulous job.”
Fernando Salas, Lance Lynn, Marc Rzepczynski and Jason Motte shut down the Brewers to close out the victory. Motte, who had two saves lasting more than inning in September and another in the first round of the playoffs against Philadelphia, got four outs for this save and fanned pinch hitter Casey McGehee to end it.
Carpenter won his seventh postseason game to tie Bob Gibson’s franchise record, but with none of the brilliance of his three-hit shutout over Roy Halladay and the favored Phillies in the deciding game of the division series. He lasted only five innings, with nearly half of his 89 pitches for balls.
The starters’ ineffectiveness was surprising considering their track records.
Carpenter has been clutch throughout his career in the postseason, going 7-2 with a 3.14 ERA in 12 games. Gallardo allowed only two runs in 21 innings, a minuscule 0.86 ERA, before Game 3.
The Cardinals have scored in the first inning in their last five games, and batted around against Gallardo in the first. Pujols delivered an RBI double after starring in a Game 2 win with a home run and three doubles, and then singled in the second to give him six hits in a stretch of seven at-bats.
Mark Kotsay started ahead of slumping Nyjer Morgan and homered for the Brewers. Yuniesky Betancourt had two singles and an RBI and Gallardo, a .221 hitter with a homer and four RBIs, had a sacrifice fly in the second.
Jon Jay and David Freese added RBI doubles in the first for St. Louis, which was 3 for 4 with runners in scoring position to start the game but 0 for 7 the rest of the way.
Gallardo, who’s 1-7 with a 5.66 career mark against the Cardinals, trailed 2-0 after his first 12 pitches and barely made it out of the first trailing 4-0. The right-hander walked three, one of them intentional, and the Brewers had Chris Narveson up in the bullpen before Yadier Molina grounded into a double play, scoring the fourth run, for his first outs.