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10/10/2012 7:01 PM EDT
Carpenter pitches Cards past Nats 8-0 for 2-1 lead
ST LOUIS 8, WASHINGTON 0

By HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Sports Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- 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, the
37-year-old Carpenter spoiled the return of postseason baseball
to Washington by throwing scoreless ball into the sixth inning,
and the defending champion Cardinals beat the 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."



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 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.



"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'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. He 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," the 19-year-old 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 Nationals 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. Kozma took over as the
Cardinals' everyday shortstop in September, replacing injured
All-Star Rafael Furcal, and only had 72 at-bats during the
regular season.



But he's only the latest in a series of "Who's that?" stars of
this postseason.



With the Capitol Dome rising beyond left field, the crowd of
today was ready to root, root, root for the home team, breaking
into chants of "Let's go, Nats!" after player introductions and
again after a four-jet flyover. And, boy, did they boo - when
Cardinals outfielder Jon Jay was announced as the game's first
batter, when first-base umpire Jim Joyce missed a call, when
catcher Yadier Molina trotted to chat with Carpenter, even when
Carpenter paused between pitches to tie his red-and-gray right
shoe.



"Carp's been a dominant pitcher his whole career. Big-game
pitcher. He showed up," Washington's Jayson Werth said. "He
pitched well today. We had him in some spots. We had him on the
ropes a couple of times. We were just one bloop away from a
totally different ballgame."



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 what Cardinals manager Mike Matheny termed a
"radical" operation in July to correct a nerve problem.



"Everyone had written him off, kind of," Jay said. "It could
have been a season-ending injury, where he could have just gone
home and said, `See you later."'



The top rib on Carpenter's right side was removed, along with
muscles that were constricting blood flow up there. After
Wednesday's game, he squeezed his big right hand with his left,
explaining, "Basically, my nerves were getting squished down by
all the scar tissue and all the muscles and everything. There
wasn't enough space."



Still adjusting to the way breathing feels different, 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.



The 10 victories tie Carpenter for seventh-most, behind Andy
Pettitte's record 19.



"If the baseball world doesn't know what an amazing competitor
he is by now, they haven't been paying any attention," Cardinals
left fielder Matt Holliday said.



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



Earlier, Carpenter stepped to the plate for his first at-bat and
chatted with umpire Joe West.



"I say hello to him. And he said hello back, and he talked about
what a beautiful day it was to play a baseball game. And I was
like, `You ain't kidding,"' Carpenter recounted. "Beautiful
weather. The crowd is going crazy. ... There's no question you
take time to reflect on that."



NOTES: Holliday fouled a ball off his left leg in the eighth,
stayed in to deliver a two-run single, then left for a pinch
runner. ... Lohse beat the Braves in the wild-card game. ...
Detwiler will be making the first postseason appearance of his
career. His last regular-season start also came against the
Cardinals, and he went only 2 1-3 innings, giving up seven runs.
... Wednesday was the 88th anniversary of Washington's only
World Series championship, won by the Senators on Oct. 10, 1924.



---



Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at
http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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