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Cards Win 3-1 to Take a 2-1 Lead in the NLDS

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Home runs by Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong provided all the offense the Cards would need to beat the Dodgers and take the lead in the series.

Wong is pumped up after his home run gives the Cardinals the lead
Wong is pumped up after his home run gives the Cardinals the lead
Dilip Vishwanat

there once was a team that was lacking

the home runs they just weren't packing

but the playoffs aren't the same

in a moment, this game can change

and tonight, the cardinals were smacking

The Beginning

Tonight, John Lackey faced Hyun-Jin Ryu.  Postseason Bulldog vs. Guy Coming Off Shoulder Inflammation Who Hasn't Pitched Since September 12.  The odds seemed in the Cardinals' favor, but both pitchers were fierce out of the gate.  A sort of bizarre strike zone was established almost immediately, with home plate umpire Dale Scott giving both sides (for the most part) the waaay outside part of the plate on right-handed hitters. Both pitchers also took advantage of this breathing room.

Ryu looked nearly unhittable to start, but Lackey was nearly as good.  After giving up a lead off single to Dee Gordon in the first inning, Lackey struck out Yasiel Puig and got Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp to fly out.  That strike out, by the way, was Puig's sixth k in a row in this series.  (Lackey got him again for number seven in the third inning.). Lackey worked out of slight trouble again in the second, as he got Ryu to strike out with runners on the corners and two outs.

The Cardinals challenged with consecutive singles from Matt Adams and Yadier Molina in the bottom of the second, but with two on and no one out, were unable to push a run across.  0-0 and holding strong.

Matt Carpenter broke the short-lived tie in the third inning with a lead off blast into right field.  The sellout, standing room only, largest crowd in the history of Busch III went nuts.  They demanded a curtain call. Carpenter acquiesced. 1-0 Redbirds.

The Middle

Lackey was solid through the middle innings, but unfortunately so was Ryu.  It felt like a true, albeit unlikely, pitchers' duel.  Both teams went 1-2-3 in the fourth, and, save for a walk by the ever-pesky A.J. Ellis, the Dodgers suffered the same fate.

While I didn't dare predict that a 1-0 lead would hold tonight, I certainly hoped it.  Lackey was painting the outside corner all night, like he was born to live on that edge - exploiting the generous strike zone, throwing strike after strike that, on any other night, in any other stadium, against any other worthy opponent, may have ended in a based-loaded jam, or worse.  But tonight, he looked exactly like that fabled post-season hero we needed.  ...Until the sixth inning, when the dangerous Dodgers line up figured it out.  Puig drove a high, outside fastball into the right field corner for a triple, ending his strikeout streak.  A few batters later, Ramirez followed up with a double to right - again on an outside fastball - to score Puig.  To be fair to Lackey, he did pop up Gonzalez and strike out Kemp to almost get out of the inning unscathed.  Puig scored on Hanley's double, but the damage could have been much worse. 1-1 after 6.

The End

Lackey came out strong in the seventh, as if completely unphased by what happened in the sixth. Juan Uribe lined out, A.J. Ellis struck out, retired for the first time, and pinch-hitter Scott Van Slyke grounded out.  I was pleased to see him out there for one more inning, and equally pleased that it was his last.

The bottom of the seventh provided much joy, and some consternation. Out of nowhere (though apparently predicted by Ken Rosenthal), torrential downpour covered the stadium.  But because it was only expected to last five minutes, and indeed did, the game forged on.  Molina led off with a double down the left field line, and then - of course - Matheny called on Jon Jay to bunt the runner over.  I barely had time to complain profusely and cite win expectancy stats before Kolten Wong stepped up to the plate and hit an absolute bullet to right center field.  3-1 Cardinals. Carpenter doubled and Grichuk singled to threaten more runs In the seventh, but no insurance would come. For some reason, Matt Holliday was double-switched out of the game for Peter Bourjos.  This game had a happy ending, so perhaps it is not worth dwelling on.  Still, it was a head-scratcher.

Pat Neshek came in to pitch the eighth, and I would like to tell you more about it, but I turned my head and missed the whole damn thing.  Neshek threw nine pitches to ground out Gordon, strike out Puig (that's eight for his last nine, if you're keeping score at home), and fly out Gonzalez. He was so good, I wondered if Matheny would consider leaving him in for the ninth.

instead, Trevor Rosenthal took the mound for the home team in the ninth.  He struck out Kemp to start, but didn't look as sharp as he did in game 1.  Yadi was calling for a lot of off speed stuff, including several curve balls.  It seemed Rosie didn't have the command he wanted on his fastball, though he did reach 100 against Carl Crawford. After consecutive singles by Ramirez and Crawford, Uribe drew a 2-0 count and Molina popped up like a rocket and headed toward Rosenthal. Matheny came out of the dugout.  It seemed the mound was wet from the quick shower earlier, and it was affecting Rosie's follow through.  The grounds crew came out to sprinkle...whatever it is they sprinkle, and that seemed to do the trick.  Uribe and Ellis both flew out to right to end the game. Cards win 3-1!!!

Additional Notes

1. The Holliday double-switch was bizarre to me, and they really glossed it over on the broadcast. Anyone care to defend this move?  I get the defensive replacement in Bourjos, but putting the pitcher's spot into the third spot in the lineup just seems like an inherently bad idea.  We've seen it backfire so many times, have we not learned our lesson?

2. The announcers began comparing Matt Carpenter to Stan Musial.  That also seemed odd to me.  I love me some Matt Carpenter, and he has been incredible in this series, but let's not get carried away.

3. Lackey's final line tonight: 7 IP, 1 R, 5 H, 1 BB, 8 SO.  Perhaps aided at times by an unusual strike zone, he looked simply dominant during the middle innings, and his attitude certainly conveyed as much.  His command was spot on, and he went right after the tough Dodgers line up.  For as much hand-wringing as we did after the trade, Lackey was the pitcher the Cardinals traded for tonight.

4. Clayton Kershaw will pitch again on short rest tomorrow.  The Dodgers announced this as the plan before tonight's game, win or lose.  Greinke will start Game 5 on regular rest, if needed. Tomorrow is a must-win for the boys in blue.  Even on short rest, Kershaw is as formidable an opponent as they come. Shelby Miller takes the mound for the Cardinals, in what looks on paper to be a David-Goliath battle. The game starts at 4:07 CT.

**My apologies for the late recap, folks. My laptop battery died, and the cord mysteriously went missing. I wrote most of this on my iPad!  Harder than it seems...