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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

NOT THIS TIME: Carpenter, Cardinals can't overcome sloppy play in Game 2

NOT THIS TIME: Carpenter, Cardinals can't overcome sloppy play in Game 2

SAN FRANCISCO • The National League championship series isn’t going to be quick, or easy, or pretty.
The Cardinals probably didn’t need the reminder, but Game 2 against the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday night at AT&T Park left little room for interpretation.
The Cardinals finished with one run, five hits, two errors and plenty left to contemplate.
Playing behind starting pitcher and enforcer Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals fell victim to a flurry of pitching and defensive mistakes in a 7-1 loss that leveled the series at a game each and perhaps placed it on slow simmer as well.
Imprecise command and a rash of odd fourth-inning plays prevented Carpenter from resembling his postseason reputation.
Instead of dominance, Carpenter offered four innings in which he threw more balls than strikes, allowed a home run to the first hitter he faced, was charged with an error and seemed displeased with the night in general.
"They Giants played well. For whatever reason, tonight wasn’t our night," Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran said.
Giants starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong represented a huge reason as he worked seven strong innings to give the National League West champions their first postseason quality start.
"We’re going to have to do something different if we see him again," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
The Giants broke a tie game with a four-run fourth inning dictated by a series of flares and a bases-clearing single.
Following Brandon Belt’s leadoff flare, the Giants took advantage of the Cardinals’ defensive positioning when left fielder Gregor Blanco chopped a one-hopper over third baseman David Freese for a single to put runners at the corners.
Carpenter’s death by paper cuts continued when shortstop Brandon Crawford topped the ball between the mound and first base line. Carpenter fielded the ball, but his momentum took him near the line. With Crawford running inside the line, Carpenter palmed a throw that Allen Craig became tangled pursuing. Carpenter absorbed a tough error on a play that scored Belt for a 2-1 lead.
The Giants might have caught a break when Carpenter fielded Vogelsong’s two-strike, one-out bunt, which appeared ready to roll foul. A walk of Angel Pagan loaded the bases for what became the night’s pivot point.
Playing on a painful hip, Marco Scutaro lined a single to left-center field that scored two runs without challenge.
Moving laterally, Matt Holliday overran the ball as he appeared to hurry. His boot of Scutaro’s hit allowed Pagan to score from first base to complete the four-run rally and doomed Carpenter’s appearance with three unearned runs.
Carpenter described his four innings as a night of improvising. He lacked command of his fastball and never found a rhythm.
"Unfortunately I wasn’t able to give my guys a chance," Carpenter said. "My command wasn’t good. My sharpness wasn’t as good as I would have liked. It came down to one pitch that could have changed the game. I wasn’t able to make that pitch."
"The Giants have good hitters. If we make mistakes, they’re going to make us pay," said catcher Yadier Molina.
Vogelsong, the NL ERA leader through Aug. 12, wasn’t overpowering, but he was able to control both sides of the plate against both lefthanded and righthanded hitters. A pitching staff in need of an extended start found it in a 106-pitch, four-hit performance worth Vogelsong’s first postseason win.
The feast-or-famine Cardinals again fell in predictable offensive fashion. They’ve managed only 11 hits in three playoff losses while scoring 41 runs in their five wins. Able to work only two walks, the Cardinals were 0 for seven with runners in scoring position and stranded all three hitters who doubled.
The series moves to Busch Stadium for the next three games, but it remains to be seen whether the teams left behind the rub caused by Holliday’s hard first-inning slide into Giants second baseman Scutaro.
The Cardinals’s most promising threat also became its most controversial after Beltran walked and Holliday singled with one out in the first inning.
Craig bounced a ground ball to shortstop. Scutaro took the feed while keeping the bag between him and the churning Holliday, who appeared to launch himself over the base at Scutaro’s left leg.
"As I watched it live it looked like it was a hard slide. He didn’t go out of the baseline to get him," said Matheny, who had not yet seen a replay. "We teach our guys to go hard. Play the game, play it hard, not to try and hurt anybody. And I hated to see it end up that way. That’s not how we play the game. But we do go hard within the rules."
The slide left Scutaro down behind second base for several moments while a crowd of 42,679 made known its displeasure. Scutaro stayed in the game for three at-bats and became a central figure in the four-run fourth inning before leaving with what was described as a left hip injury.
The play bothered Holliday the rest of the game. Before taking his next at-bat the left fielder told Giants catcher Buster Posey to relay that his intent was in no way to hurt Scutaro and that he regretted not sliding earlier.
Still, Holliday’s play the rest of the night was not crisp. He was hitless in his next three at-bats, committed the error and pulled off a fly ball during a two-run eighth inning.
"I felt bad," he said. "When a guy has to leave the game it bothers me. I hope he’s OK and that it was precautionary. I care about other people and I hope he’s all right."
What Giants manager Bruce Bochy considered an illegal slide seemed to propel the Giants. When Pagan drove Carpenter’s fourth pitch for a leadoff home run, he appeared to salute the Cardinals dugout as he went into his home run trot.
No retaliation was taken against Holliday. Vogelsong pitched him decidedly away in his next plate appearance.
"You’re at first base, there’s a ground ball, your job is to break up the double play within the rules," Cardinals second baseman Daniel Descalso said. "That’s what he does. That’s what he did."
Typically a middle infielder uses the bag as a buffer between himself and a runner. Holliday’s late slide, however, propelled the larger man over the base into Scutaro’s legs.
"There’s not a lot of guys who would (slide over the bag) because you could hurt yourself going over the base as a baserunner; so a lot of guys like myself use the base as protection," Descalso said. "But there are guys who will come over the base, especially on balls that aren’t hit hard and the ball and the runner are getting there at the same time."
Holliday is a popular player who does not carry a reputation as a headhunter. He also is an agile man and large enough to have been recruited by Oklahoma State as a quarterback before signing with the Colorado Rockies.
"I just tried to make sure they didn’t turn the double play," said Holliday, who addressed the incident for more than 10 minutes after the game. "I don’t know if there’s a rule about (sliding through the bag). Obviously, there wasn’t an out call. I don’t know what the rule is."
A 5-1 game took its final shape as the Giants overwhelmed rookie Shelby Miller for two eighth-inning runs. A leadoff walk and three singles chased Miller before he got a second out, though additional defensive issues factored.
The Cardinals reverted to their early September defensive form after playing crisply the last several weeks. Absent was the collegiate enthusiasm that spilled over the dugout rail during Sunday’s 6-4 win.
The Cardinals appeared in counterpunch mode, unable to generate a hit with runners in scoring position while trying to patch together another five innings from an increasingly stressed bullpen.
The postseason loss was Carpenter’s first since Game 1 of a 2009 National League division series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Carpenter was 4-0 in six starts last postseason and was 10-2 in 16 postseason starts before Monday.
A rotation that had the lowest September ERA of the league’s last four tournament teams has now scraped for 10 innings total in its last three appearances. A bullpen that has served as the team’s pillar has worked 34 innings in eight games.

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