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, 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."
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.
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."