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Cardinals take 2-1 lead in NLCS without their playoff star

In yet another display of their incredible ability to overcome obstacles placed in their way, the Cardinals rode a home run from an emergency substitute to a 3-1 victory in game three of the National League Championship Series.

Matt Carpenter, who was forced into the game with no warning when slugging right fielder Carlos Beltran -- one of the most prolific hittiers in playoff history -- tweaked his knee while running out a double play grounder, hit a rocket blast to right field off Giants starter Matt Cain in his first at-bat of the game in the third inning. The two-run shot reversed a one-run Giants lead established in the top of the inning.

Cardinals starting pitcher Kyle Lohse seemed to struggle with his control throughout the game, rapidly piling up the number of pitches he threw. But he got a couple of key double plays to help the Giants to strand 11 runners on base and hold them to one run over 5 2/3 innings.

If there was a downside to the game it was that the Cardinals were once again forced to lean heavily on their bullpen.

Jason Motte had to pitch two innings to get the save. And normally that would be a threat to his ability to come back and pitch the next day. But Motte managed to pitch efficiently, allowing no baserunners, and he held his pitch count down to 19. That number isn't much more than he'd throw during a more stressful single inning.

Trevor Rosenthal finished the sixth for Lohse, then Edward Mujica came in the seventh and had to be bailed out by Mitchell Boggs when he allowed two baserunners with one out in the frame. Boggs finished the inning and, because he was brought into the game as part of a double switch, it seemed he was likely to work the eighth, too. But when a 3 1/2-hour rain delay shut down the game, Boggs was unable to return and Motte had to shoulder the rest of the load.

The Cardinals took a 2-1 lead in the NLCS thanks to the victory, They'll have a chance to take a commanding 3-1 advantage tonight. But to do so they'll have to beat two time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum. The Redbirds will counter with Adam Wainwright who was pounded by the Nationals in the deciding game of the National League Division Series against Washington.

Cardinals Star of the Game: Matt Carpenter, who in addition to his winning hit had a key diving play at first base to prevent the Giants from rallying in the ninth inning.

Cardinals Play of the Game: Carpenter's homer.

Lowlight: Beltran's knee injury. The Cardinals reported after the game that Beltran underwent an MRI and it showed no structural damage to his knee. While some sports outlets reported he was expected to play Thursday in game four, manager Mike Matheny didn't sound so sure. He said he'd have to see how the slugging outfielder felt today before making a determination about Beltran's status.