Cardinals don't get down and out when trailing, rally squelches Dodgers

Cardinals don't get down and out when trailing, rally squelches Dodgers
Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter watches his three-run double head toward right-center field in the seventh inning. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

For six innings Friday, the St. Louis Cardinals were handcuffed by Clayton Kershaw.

They had managed just two hits while striking out eight times. Their own starter, Adam Wainwright, had been pounded. So when the Cardinals came to bat in the seventh inning, they trailed, 6-2.

In the 67 previous games in which the Dodgers had scored four or more runs behind Kershaw, they won all of them.

"It got quiet," catcher Yadier Molina said of the mood in the Cardinals dugout.

"When we're down 6-1, it seemed improbable," outfielder Matt Holliday said of a comeback. "[But] what else can you do? Just keep fighting like we've done all season. We really had no other choice."

That turned out to be a pretty good plan. Because after Kershaw gave up singles to five of the first six batters in the seventh inning, Matt Carpenter followed with a go-ahead three-run double that not only chased Kershaw, it also chased the Dodgers' momentum with St. Louis hanging on for a 10-9 victory and a 1-0 lead in the National League division series.

If that all sounds familiar, it should. Two years ago, the Cardinals scored four times in their final time up to eliminate the Washington Nationals from the postseason. And the year before that, they were down to their last strike twice before rallying to beat the Texas Rangers and win the World Series.

"That's the thing about this team. We just never quit," Carpenter said. "We were down a bunch, but kept fighting, kept having good at-bats. Kept putting things together."


But eventually it came down to Carpenter against Kershaw, just as it did in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series last year. In that game, the Cardinals infielder battled the Dodgers ace through an 11-pitch at-bat, fouling off eight strikes before doubling to start a four-run rally that would end Kershaw's night and the Dodgers season.

"During that at-bat I was thinking about it. It was a very similar scenario," Carpenter said Friday. "But honestly in that moment I was just trying to focus on having a very competitive at-bat."

This time Carpenter fouled off three straight four-seam fastballs before taking a couple of sliders for balls. He then fouled off two more pitches, a fastball and a slider, before lining the eighth pitch of the at-bat to the wall in right-center for a bases clearing double.

Two batters later, Holliday hit a three-run home run off reliever Pedro Baez, giving the Cardinals a four-run lead that would prove just big enough for the win.

"I imagine this one might be talked about for a while now," Cardinal Manager Mike Matheny said of Carpenter's at-bat.

But the battle between Carpenter and Kershaw is deeper than just two at-bats. Including a sixth-inning solo homer Friday, Carpenter has a .324 lifetime average against Kershaw, including two doubles, a triple and a homer in 10 postseason at-bats.

"It's incredible the way he's able to have such good at-bats on Clayton. Because most lefties seem to have a hard time against him," Holliday said. "He seems to really battle. I'm sure the lefties around the league will be calling."

Carpenter said there's really no secret to his success but admitted he bears down a bit more against Kershaw, the sure-fired NL Cy Young winner and the likely league MVP.

"I have the utmost respect for him and what kind of pitcher he is. But I just really love to compete and face him," Carpenter said.

He may get another chance next week because, even after Friday's win, the Cardinals still have a lot of work to do to close out the series.

"We've got to win three games. We have won one," Holliday said. "So you're glad that you got a win and you move on to tomorrow."