WASHINGTON — Set aside the high-pressure task of postseason pitching that Chris Carpenter routinely masters for the St. Louis Cardinals and think about this:
Even the take-it-for-granted act of breathing feels odd on occasion now that he’s missing a rib and two neck muscles.
Taking the mound for only the fourth time in 2012 after complicated surgery to cure numbness on his right side, Carpenter, 37, spoiled the return of postseason baseball to Washington by throwing scoreless ball into the sixth inning, and the defending champion Cardinals beat the Washington Nationals, 8-0, Wednesday to take a 2-1 lead in their NL Division Series.
“To go from not being able to compete, and not only compete but help your team, to be able to be in this situation,” Carpenter said, “it’s pretty cool.”
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Rookie Pete Kozma delivered a three-run homer, and a trio of relievers finished the shutout for the Cardinals, who can end the best-of-five series in Game 4 today at Washington. Kyle Lohse will start for St. Louis. Ross Detwiler pitches for Washington, which is sticking to its long-stated plan of keeping Stephen Strasburg on the sideline the rest of the way.
“We’re not out of this, by a long shot,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. “Shoot, I’ve had my back to worse walls than this.”
With the exception of Ian Desmond – 3-for-4 on Wednesday, 7-for-12 in the series – the Nationals’ hitters are struggling mightily. They have scored a total of seven runs in the playoffs and were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, leaving 11 men on base in Game 3.
Washington rookie phenom Bryce Harper’s woes, in particular, stand out: He went 0-for-5, dropping to 1-for-15. Harper, 19, went to the plate with an ash bat and no gloves in the first inning, tried wearing anti-glare tinted contact lenses on a sun-splashed afternoon – nothing helped.
“Nothing I can do,” Harper said. “I just missed a couple.”
All in all, quite a damper on the day for a Nationals Park-record 45,017 red-wearing, towel-twirling fans witnessing the first major league postseason game in the nation’s capital in 79 years. They didn’t have much to enjoy, in part because of the problems created by Washington’s starter Edwin Jackson, who was on the Cardinals’ championship team a year ago.
“I didn’t feel like I was out of rhythm. I didn’t feel like I couldn’t throw strikes. I just missed across the plate with a couple of balls and it cost me,” Jackson said.
He gave up four consecutive hits in the second, the biggest being Kozma’s first-pitch homer into the first row in left off a 94 mph fastball to make it 4-0.
But it was Carpenter’s return to form that had people talking.
“Carp’s been a dominant pitcher his whole career. Big-game pitcher. He showed up,” Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth said. “He pitched well today.”