Cards in a cakewalk: Sorry, Yogi, but this one was over before it was over

News-DemocratOctober 19, 2013 

It won't say it exactly this way in the box score, but the St. Louis Cardinals won the National League pennant at 8:30 p.m. Friday.

That's just about when they started their epic, 20-minute third inning against Clayton Kershaw, who was bent, folded, spindled and mutilated by the Cardinals en route to their 9-0 win in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The Cardinals sent 10 men to the plate. Four of them scored. Five of them had hits. Two of them walked. And by the time the Redbirds were done circling the bases -- Kershaw threw 48 pitches, while Yasiel Puig made two of the worst throws you can make as an outfielder -- St. Louis had a four-run lead and a stranglehold on the club's 19th World Series trip.

"When he got two strikes on me, I told myself, 'I'm not striking out, I'm not going to let him strike me out,'" said Cards leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter, who started the rally with as good an at-bat as we'll ever see: He fouled off eight pitches in an 11-pitch trip to the plate before doubling with one out to open the onslaught. "He kept making good pitches and I kept fouling them off, and then the crowed started getting into it.

"He finally made a mistake, and I was able to hit it."

Carpenter was followed to the plate by seven other Cardinal hitters, who added insult to injury as they found a way to beat Kershaw for the fourth time in four tries this season.

"The Carpenter at-bat, I felt like that was just a tremendous at-bat," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "Just kept fouling off pitches, both side of the field fouling balls back, and then that ended up being a double.

"From there, it seemed like the floodgates just opened."

Eleven pitches from Kershaw to Carpenter, only two of them balls -- and Carpenter's bat made some sort of contact with every one of the offerings that Kershaw threw in the strike zone.

The sequence went like this: Ball. Foul. Foul. Foul. Foul. Foul. Foul. Foul. Ball. Foul. Double.

Kershaw's pitch count went from 37 to 48 in the span of Carpenter's stay at the plate, and it ballooned from 33 to 81 during the course of the inning.

Four pitches after Carpenter's double, Carlos Beltran singled to right for the first run, and easily made it to second when Puig threw a lollipop toward the plate.

On the night, Beltran had three hits, two RBIs and a diving catch in the outfield. After 2,109 games played in the majors, regular and postseason, Beltran is in his first World Series.

"I thought about my family, my dad, my mom, my wife and my kids," Beltran said. "All the people that have been around me, and know how much I wanted to get to this point: My country, my hometown.

"So it's a great feeling to be able to come through and to be able to have this opportunity."

After Beltran's RBI hit, Matt Holliday struck out on three pitches, but Yadier Molina singled to center on a 2-2 slider to make it 2-0.

After a trip to the mound to calm Kershaw's nerves -- gee, L.A., how did that work out? -- David Freese singled on a 2-1 pitch, and Matt Adams walked on a 3-2 fastball.

Shane Robinson singled to right on an 0-1 pitch for two more runs, and Puig skied the throw home, far over catcher A.J. Ellis' head.

The last time I saw a player throw a ball that far over a catcher's head, Rick Ankiel was pitching in a Cardinals playoff game 13 years ago.

That was then, and this is now. And this is where we stand, waiting for the Cardinals' next World Series opponent.

Will Beltran and his mates face Boston, who beat the Cards in the 2004 Fall Classic? Or will it be Detroit, who lost to the Cardinals in the 2006 World Series?

We sit and wait. And marvel at a marvelous mix of veteran hitters and baby pitchers on the latest World Series entrant representing the Birds on the Bat.

"They were talking in the clubhouse about how not everybody gets this opportunity," Wacha said. "We have so many rookies on our team that we just try to embrace everything, trying not to take it for granted."

Joe Ostermeier, chairman of the St. Louis chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America, has written about the Cardinals for the Belleville News-Democrat since their playoff run in 1985. He can be reached at (618) 239-2512, or at jostermeier@bnd.com.

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