|ESPN.com: MLB Playoffs 2012||[Print without images]|
SAN FRANCISCO -- The frying pan: a 6-4 loss to St. Louis in Game 1.
The fire: Chris Carpenter.
Sure, the San Francisco Giants can cool off the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday night when they next take the field in what has suddenly become (for San Francisco, at least) the unfriendly confines of AT&T Park. Sure, Ryan Vogelsong, the Game 2 starter in Bruce Bochy's resilient-but-beleaguered rotation, can throw a few flames of his own in the direction of a refuse-to-lose St. Louis club as the National League Championship Series resumes (8:07 p.m. ET, ESPN Radio and ESPNRadio.com).
And sure, Carpenter, who counters on the mound for the Cardinals, is human. Just flesh and blood.
|Carpenter barely pitched this season, but don't bet against him in October.|
The thing is, he has been just a little less human than pretty much everybody else who has been pitching in the postseason over the past seven years or so.
So if Sunday's loss put the Giants in hot water, Monday's matchup against Carpenter might land them in a burn unit.
"He's a competitor like I've never seen," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said about Carpenter. "The guy just finds a different gear when it becomes his turn to do something special."
This is the place where, under most circumstances in a story about an important, about-to-be-played baseball game, we present the starting pitcher's recent history against his opponent. Wins, losses, ERA, hitters he has handled, hitters he hasn't. But in Carpenter's case right now, that doesn't take long. There is no recent history. He's got big fat zeros against the Giants this year. Zero wins, zero losses, zero innings pitched, zero earned runs allowed, zero success and zero struggles against Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey and the rest.
None of Carpenter's three regular-season starts in September after he came back from neurogenic thoracic surgery (neck muscle extraction, with a rib along for the ride in the exodus -- "They take out your first rib, which is underneath your collarbone, with a pair of hedge clipper-looking things," Carpenter said) came against San Francisco. No need for further medical details; Jayson Stark covered his unexpected presence in the postseason with this excellent piece, well worth reading. So the Giants will be relying almost solely on scouting reports when they step in against him Monday night.
And video. Scouting reports and video. And whatever muscle memory might still linger in the sinews of their plate appearances against Carpenter from years past.
"Everything," said Giants center fielder Angel Pagan late Sunday amid the ashes of the Game 1 loss. "Everything. You've just got to see how he won the last few outings. Obviously, he pitched well in the postseason against Washington. But we've faced him before. We know what he's got. It's not like he's going to devil up a special pitch for tomorrow. We know the repertoire he's got, and we'll be ready for it."
Or there's Gregor Blanco's approach, which is to just well, let it happen.
"I don't care to watch [video]," Blanco said. "For me, it's just trying to see what he's throwing in the game. For other guys, they might [watch video]. But I just try to see what kind of pitches he has. That's all I want to know. It seems like he's a good pitcher. I know he's going to come after us."
Monday night is Carpenter's next chance to add to a burgeoning postseason curriculum vitae. That CV might not be considered legendary yet by some, not in a Bob Gibson-Curt Schilling-John Smoltz sort of way; but if it isn't, it surely ought to be knockin' at the door. In 10 postseason series with the Cardinals since 2005, Carpenter is 10-2 with a 2.88 ERA, including his 5⅔ innings of scoreless work in winning Game 3 of the division series against Washington on Wednesday.
Measure 'em up. Gibson, pitching only in three World Series, was 7-2, 1.89; Schilling, in 12 postseason series, was 11-2, 2.23; and Smoltz, in 25 playoff series, was 15-4, 2.67. Throw Andy Pettitte into that mix, too: 19-11, 3.81 in his 32 (so far) postseason series. It's tough to find a reason to keep Carpenter out of that conversation.
None of this will be news to dedicated followers of fine pressure pitching in the postseason, so apologies if you're already tired of hearing about him. But it isn't going away: Any Carpenter start in the playoffs from here on out is an event. Get used to it.
But there is a little something new to the Carpenter résumé these days. St. Louis is turning over a bit here and there -- Tony La Russa (longtime manager), Dave Duncan (longtime pitching coach) and Albert Pujols (longtime long-ball hitter) have moved on, which has the 37-year-old Carpenter playing a wizened old team leader's role more than he might've in previous postseasons.
|Ryan Vogelsong will be given the challenge of matching up with Carpenter.|
To wit: After that absurd late-inning comeback to wrest an NLCS berth away from the Washington Nationals in Game 5 of the division series Friday night, the Cardinals naturally were ready to party hardy in the Nationals Park visiting clubhouse until Carpenter told them to cool their heels and wait for infielders (and stars of the game) Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma, who were doing interviews on the field, to join them.
"There was not a way we were going to start the celebration without our whole team there," Carpenter said. "We're a ballclub. We're one team, and everybody contributes. It just wasn't going to happen. I wasn't going to let it happen."
That's a veteran move, one a still-wet-behind-the-ears manager such as Matheny, in his first year as La Russa's replacement, especially appreciates.
"The credentials speak for themselves for what he's been able to do," Matheny said. "But the way he goes about it and how he can't wait to help the next guy along is pretty rare. He's made our staff better. He's made our team better by how he's taken that concept and pushed it on to the position players and everybody in that room, to where it's not about them; it's about us. And that's pretty special."
So that's what San Francisco is up against Monday: One of the game's great postseason pitchers taking the mound to lead a hot-to-trot team that thinks enough of him to keep the corks in the champagne bottles 'til all's right in his world. The Giants can maybe be excused if they're feelin' the heat.
And oddly enough, the 42,500 or so screaming fans who will crowd into AT&T Park might not help. They didn't, at least, in the Giants' past three home playoff games, all losses. Think it's stifling now? The prospect of a two-games-to-none deficit when the series shifts to St. Louis for Game 3 on Wednesday well, San Francisco did win three straight on the road against the Reds last week, but as Pagan said late Sunday, "We can't go on that. Whatever happened in Cincinnati has already happened. That's been played already. We have to be focused on tomorrow so we can go to St. Louis and battle there."
"There" is Busch Stadium. It can be hot there, too.
"You don't necessarily want your back against the wall in that place," said San Francisco's first baseman, Brandon Belt.