The first postseason game in our nation’s capital since 1933 proved an ugly disaster for the home fans. The Cardinals scored one run in the first off Edwin Jackson, and then unlikely postseason hero Pete Kozma -- doing his best impersonation of Bucky Dent or Brian Doyle or Cody Ross -- slugged a three-run homer in the second to give the Cardinals a 4-0 lead.
Jayson Stark summed up the 37-year-old in his opening sentence in his story leading into the game: "On Wednesday afternoon in Nationals Park, a man will take the mound who has no business being there."
Carpenter, who missed most of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, didn’t exactly carve up the Nationals, allowing seven hits and striking out only two batters, but in typical Carpenter fashion, he gutted it through 5 2/3 innings and got the big outs with runners on base, most notably striking out Mike Morse with two runners on in the first and retiring Morse again on a fly to right with the bases loaded to end the fifth.
The score was still 4-0 at that point, and Carpenter had been careful with the previous batter, Adam LaRoche, walking him on seven pitches despite getting ahead in the count 0-2. But the righty-righty matchup against the free-swinging Morse is a better matchup for Carpenter. Morse swung and missed at a curve, took another curve in the dirt for a ball, and then Carpenter jammed Morse just enough on a 92 mph cutter. It was a perfect example of the savvy approach of a veteran who knows what he’s doing: First, see whether Morse will chase something; then, knowing you can’t let Morse extend his arms, go inside. Beautiful.
In his postgame on-field interview, Carpenter said LaRoche had put some good at-bats on him in the past. "In no way was I going to let him hurt me. If he walks he walks," he said of that situation.
Carpenter’s postseason legacy is starting to build. In 16 career playoff starts, he’s 10-2 with a 2.88 ERA. He’s been the ace on two World Series champions. His best postseason outings include eight shutout innings against the Tigers in Game 3 of the 2006 World Series, a memorable 1-0 complete-game win over Roy Halladay in Game 5 of last year’s NL Division Series, his gutsy effort on three days’ rest in Game 7 of the last year’s World Series and now this game, performing at a high level when he wasn’t even expected to be here a couple of months ago.
"It was just a constant grind," Carpenter said. "I made pitches when I had to. When you get to this situation in the postseason, you just give it all you got and go as long as you can and turn it over to the bullpen."
A fun stat that sums up Carpenter’s outing: He became just the second pitcher to start and win a postseason game after not winning a game during the regular season, joining Virgil Trucks of the 1945 Tigers, who returned from military service, started once in the regular season and then twice in the World Series.
Davey Johnson has to be a little worried about his bullpen, which got battered for a second straight game. Lefty Ross Detwiler will start Game 4 on Thursday, and the expectation has to be that Detwiler won’t go deep into the game. First, the Cardinals roll out all those right-handed hitters in the middle of their order, and Detwiler had a sizable platoon split during the regular season (.734 OPS versus right-handed batters, .513 versus lefties). Also, Detwiler isn’t a guy Johnson uses deep into games; he had more five-inning outings than seven-inning outings this season. So there’s a good chance Johnson will once again have to call on Craig Stammen and/or Ryan Mattheus, and neither has been effective so far in this series.
Bryce Harper continues to struggle at 1-for-15 with six strikeouts (no strikeouts in this game). He’s been battling strep throat and has been taking antibiotics, not that he’s about to use that as an excuse. I wouldn’t chalk it up to the postseason jitters of a 19-year-old; he just hasn’t hit. Case in point: In the fifth with a runner on, he took a curveball for a called strike and then popped out to shorstop on a pretty meaty 92 mph fastball. I’m sure he’ll be back in the No. 2 spot on Thursday.
It looks as though the Cardinals have yet another bullpen weapon in Trevor Rosenthal, who was pumping upper-90s gas for the second straight game. A 21st-round draft pick in 2009 out of a Kansas community college, Rosenthal has been a starter in the minors. (He posted a 2.97 ERA in 20 minor league starts before his promotion to the big leagues, where he had a 2.78 ERA with 25 K’s in 22 2/3 innings as a reliever.) With Rosenthal joining the Edward Mujica-Mitchell Boggs-Jason Motte mix, the Cards' bullpen looks deep even if they have to move Lance Lynn to the rotation if they advance to the NLCS.
The legend of Pete Kozma. Discuss. Between his play on the infield fly in the wild-card game, his crucial error in Game 1 and now this big home run, Kozma is becoming one of the central figures of this postseason. You just never know, do you?
There will now be a lot of talk about Stephen Strasburg, and there should be. Yes, he did struggle a bit down the stretch. And maybe the drop-off from him to Detwiler isn't that large, but in this specific matchup against the righty-heavy Cardinals, I think you'd still have wanted Strasburg out there.