ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 12: Chris Carpenter #29 of the St. Louis Cardinals reacts after he struck out Rickie Weeks #23 of the Milwaukee Brewers to end the top of the fifth inning during Game Three of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium on October 12, 2011 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
The Cardinals put up a four-spot against Yovani Gallardo in the bottom of the first and then held on the rest of the way to take a 2-1 series lead over the Brewers.
I can't tell you how badly I want this recap to be all about Mark Kotsay. All Mark Kotsay, all the time. Kotsay was a somewhat puzzling starter for Ron Roenicke and the Brewers Wednesday night, given the nod in center field ahead of Nyjer Morgan, and Kotsay most definitely went on to make an impact. Were it not for Kotsay, Game 3 might've been a different game entirely.
But I can't bring myself to do it. Kotsay wasn't the big story Wednesday night. If there was a big story Wednesday night, it was probably the stellar performance of the St. Louis bullpen.
Both bullpens featured prominently in this game. That wasn't quite what people were expecting - Game 3, after all, featured a showdown between ace starters Yovani Gallardo and Chris Carpenter. This was supposed to be a pitchers' duel decided by one or two mistakes, as any showdown between aces is supposed to be.
But neither Gallardo nor Carpenter were particularly effective. Carpenter pitched out of a jam in the top of the first inning, getting a break when Kotsay strayed too far from second base on a fly out to center.
Kotsay was doubled off for the third out of the inning.
Then in the bottom half, Gallardo spent half an hour trapped in a nightmare. Rafael Furcal led off with a single and took second on a wild pitch. He scored when Jon Jay dropped a fly ball just in front of Kotsay in left-center. Nyjer Morgan probably would have made the catch. Kotsay didn't. Jay picked up an RBI double.
Then Jay scored a few seconds later when Albert Pujols launched an automatic double to left-center. Just like that, the Cardinals were in front 2-0.
And oh, they weren't finished. Back-to-back walks loaded the bases with nobody out, and though Yadier Molina gave Gallardo a bit of a break when he bounced into a run-scoring double play, David Freese then blasted a liner to deepest right field that just skimmed the webbing of Corey Hart's glove. Freese had the Cardinals' third double of the inning, and the Cardinals had a 4-0 lead.
Thankfully for Gallardo, that's where they stopped. And then it was the Brewers' turn again to try to get to Carpenter. The Brewers started the second with three consecutive singles to score one run, and Gallardo drove in a second himself with a sac fly.
In the top of the third, Kotsay drove Carpenter's first pitch of the frame out of right field for a solo homer. That blast, from a most unlikely source, narrowed the Cardinals' lead to 4-3.
Now, imagine. Mark Kotsay leads off the top of the third inning with a solo home run to make the score 4-3. At that point, you assume there are probably going to be a lot more runs scored, right? That's what I thought. That's what most of the audience probably thought.
There would be no more runs. Not a single run, after Kotsay's homer.
It wasn't necessarily for lack of trying. Carpenter and Gallardo kept having to pitch out of trouble, and neither ace made it to the sixth inning. Carpenter was pulled after five innings and 89 pitches, while Gallardo was pulled after five innings and 95 pitches. Just 48 of Gallardo's 95 pitches were strikes, and he walked five Cardinals while striking out only two.
But the Brewers' final run-scoring opportunity came against Carpenter in the top of the fifth, when Rickie Weeks struck out with two on and two out. After that, they wouldn't make a sound.
Tony La Russa went to his bullpen, and Tony La Russa's bullpen was perfect. Literally perfect. Twelve Brewers batters hit against Cardinals relievers, and twelve Brewers batters made outs. Fernando Salas threw the first 1-2-3 inning. Lance Lynn threw the next. Lynn, Marc Rzepczynski and Jason Motte combined for the next after that. And Motte delivered the last. The final two batters Motte faced in the ninth - Yuniesky Betancourt and Casey McGehee - struck out swinging.
Just a dominant performance from the Cardinals' relief, as the 4-3 win gave St. Louis the 2-1 series lead. The Brewers' bullpen can't be ignored, as three relievers combined for three shutout innings, but bullpens that preserve deficits get less attention than bullpens that preserve leads.