NLCS Game 3: Four-run first, bullpen key Cardinals’ 4-3 win

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ST. LOUIS — Chris Carpenter needed a pick-me-up in the worst way. A bullpen that just sat back and watched the last time the St. Louis Cardinals ace pitched was ready for extended duty.

Albert Pujols hit an RBI double off Yovani Gallardo during a four-run first inning and four St. Louis relievers combined for four perfect innings Wednesday night for a 4-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers and a 2-1 edge in the NL championship series.

Suddenly, the wild-card Cardinals are front-runners. And against the team that put them away early en route to the NL Central title.

“I think our ballclub, no matter leading or behind, it doesn’t really matter to be honest with you,” Carpenter said. “We have battled for the last two months or however long it’s been.

“We have nothing to lose.”

The Brewers have lost eight in a row on the road in the postseason, a stretch that extends to Game 1 of the 1982 World Series in St. Louis on a shutout by Mike Caldwell. It’s the longest current streak in the majors.

“I think regardless of whether we’re winning or losing the series, we recognize what’s at stake,” Brewers star Ryan Braun said. “We’re going to prepare ourselves just like we’ve been doing and expect to win tomorrow and hopefully get off to a good start.”

In a matchup of star pitchers, neither starter made it past the fifth inning. Gallardo tied an NLCS record with three wild pitches, while the one-run lead Carpenter handed over to the relievers was just enough to put the Cardinals ahead in the best-of-seven series.

It was a game played in a steady drizzle but with no squirrel sightings — at least not on the field. In the previous playoff game at Busch Stadium, a squirrel scampered across home plate while the Cardinals were hitting.

The careening critter quickly became a favorite in St. Louis as the Rally Squirrel. The Cardinals‘ marketing department capitalized, too, giving away 40,000 rally towels with a squirrel theme, telling fans to “Go Nuts” on the video board and dressing up someone in a squirrel costume to entertain the fans between innings.

There was at least one squirrel sighting in the stands. One rodent got stuck underneath a vendor’s station just outside the press box before the game, leaping to safety and up the steps to the upper deck after a worker opened a side compartment.

Kyle Lohse, pitching on 12 days’ rest, starts Game 4 Thursday for the wild-card Cardinals against Randy Wolf.

“You never know how it’s going to work out,” Carpenter said. “That’s what’s so fun about this game and that’s what’s so fun about pitching. Our guys did a fabulous job.”

Fernando Salas, Lance Lynn, Marc Rzepczynski and Jason Motte shut down the Brewers to close out the victory. Motte, who had two saves lasting more than inning in September and another in the first round of the playoffs against Philadelphia, got four outs for this save and fanned pinch hitter Casey McGehee to end it.

“We’ve won games in several ways,” Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman said. “Tonight’s was the bullpen’s night to shine.”

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