• Cards takelead, Giantsget square
     | October 11,2012

    WASHINGTON — Chris Carpenter was every bit the postseason ace he’s been in the past for the St. Louis Cardinals.

    Taking the mound for only the fourth time in 2012, missing a rib after surgery to cure numbness on his right side, the 37-year-old Carpenter pitched scoreless ball into the sixth inning, rookie Pete Kozma delivered a three-run homer, and the defending champion Cardinals beat the Washington Nationals 8-0 Wednesday to take a 2-1 lead in their NL division series.

    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.

    Three relievers finished the shutout for the Cardinals, who can end the best-of-five series in Thursday’s Game 4 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.

    The Cardinals won 10 fewer games than the majors-best Nationals this season and finished second in the NL Central, nine games behind Cincinnati, sneaking into the postseason as the league’s second wild-card under this year’s new format. But the Cardinals become a different bunch in the high-pressure playoffs — no matter that slugger Albert Pujols and manager Tony La Russa are no longer around.

    Carpenter still is, even though even he didn’t expect to be pitching this year when he encountered problems during spring training and needed an operation in July to correct a nerve problem. The top rib on his right side was removed, along with connecting muscles.

    He returned Sept. 21, going 0-2 in three starts totaling 17 innings, so it wasn’t clear how he’d fare Wednesday. Yeah, right. Carpenter allowed seven hits and walked two across his 5 2-3 innings to improve to 10-2 over his career in the postseason. That includes a 4-0 mark while helping another group of wild-card Cardinals take the title in the 2011 World Series, when he won Game 7 against Texas.

    With the exception of Ian Desmond — 3 for 4 on Wednesday, 7 for 12 in the series — the Nationals’ hitters are struggling mightily. They’ve scored a total of seven runs in the playoffs and went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position and left 11 men on base in Game 3.

    Rookie phenom Bryce Harper’s woes, in particular, stand out: He went 0 for 5, dropping to 1 for 15.

    Carpenter was pretty good with a bat in his hands, collecting a pair of hits, including a double off the wall that was about a foot or two away from being a homer. When he reached second base, he raised his right fist.

    Similarly, neither club could be sure which Edwin Jackson would show up for NL East champion Washington, a year after he was part of the Cardinals’ championship team: The one who struck out 10 and allowed one unearned run in eight innings against St. Louis on Aug. 30, or the one who lasted only 1 1-3 innings in a loss to the Cardinals on Sept. 28.

    Much closer to the second version, it turned out, although he did recover from a rough start to retire eight of his last 10 batters Wednesday.

    Still, Jackson was done after five innings and four runs. The Cardinals tacked on four runs off relievers Craig Stammen, Christian Garcia and Ryan Mattheus.

    Giants 8, Reds 3

    CINCINNATI — Facing elimination again, the San Francisco Giants came out swinging. Got a saving relief appearance from Tim Lincecum, too.

    Angel Pagan led off the game with a home run, Gregor Blanco and Pablo Sandoval connected later and the Giants beat the Cincinnati Reds 8-3 on Wednesday, evening their NL division series at 2-all.

    Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young winner relegated to the bullpen, also delivered. He entered in the fourth with the Giants ahead 3-2, struck out six while giving up just one run in 4 1-3 innings, and allowed his team to pull away.

    The Giants can complete an unprecedented comeback on Thursday. No team has recovered from a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-five series by winning three on the road, according to STATS LLC.

    Matt Cain, who lost the series opener and has yet to beat the Reds in three tries this season, will start Game 5 against Mat Latos.

    The Giants’ hitters emerged from a series-long slump and extended Cincinnati’s playoff misery. The Reds haven’t won a postseason game at home in 17 years.

    One thing in the Reds’ favor — they haven’t dropped three straight at home all season.

    The Reds were hoping to start ace Johnny Cueto, but had to drop him off the roster a few hours before Wednesday’s first pitch because he was still bothered by a strained muscle in his right side. He won’t be available if Cincinnati wins Game 5 and reaches the NL championship series.

    The way the Giants have started hitting, that’s now in doubt.

    San Francisco managed only four runs in the first three games of the series. The Giants avoided the sweep by pulling out a 2-1 win in 10 innings on Tuesday night with the help of a passed ball and an error by third baseman Scott Rolen.

    They broke out against Mike Leake, who replaced Cueto and had a rough time. Leake threw his first career complete game in San Francisco on June 29 and was 3-0 career against the Giants.

    Pagan homered on his second pitch of the game. Blanco hit a two-run shot in the second. The Giants had another breakthrough in the fifth, when back-to-back doubles by Joaquin Arias and Pagan ended an 0-for-14 slump with runners in scoring position during the series.

    Sandoval’s two-run shot in the seventh made it 8-3, matched the Giants’ season high for homers and drew loud boos from the crowd of 44,375 — the third-largest at Great American Ball Park. Fans quietly settled into their seats and used their white rally towels as lap warmers against the evening chill.

    The Giants normally don’t hit many homers — only 103 during the season, fewest in the majors. They’re only the seventh team since 1900 to reach the playoffs after finishing last in the majors in homers.

    While the offense went to work, Lincecum bailed out the bullpen.

    Manager Bruce Bochy didn’t hesitate to put the guys he wanted on the mound, using four pitchers in the first four innings. Lincecum got the final out in the fourth and kept going, allowing only two hits in his second relief appearance of the series.

    Lincecum threw 42 strikes out of 55 pitches and even batted twice — just like a starter.

    Bochy decided to go with left-hander Barry Zito over Lincecum for Game 4, choosing the better pitcher down the stretch. Zito was left off the postseason roster when San Francisco won the World Series in 2010, but finished the regular season with seven straight wins.

    The left-hander lasted only 2 2-3 innings, his shortest career outing in the postseason. On came Lincecum to save the day.

    The Reds finished with the second-best record in the majors at 97-65, one game behind Washington. The rotation was the foundation of their championship season, with all five starters making it through unscathed — a franchise first.

    Things changed dramatically when Cueto had to leave the first inning of the playoff series opener on Saturday with the injury. The Reds made it through that game with Latos filling in for a 5-2 victory, but couldn’t win without him on Wednesday.

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