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LOUIS -- Kyle Lohse continues to rewrite his postseason story, and in doing so, he may be etching quite a legacy for himself in Cardinals lore.
The veteran right-hander entered 2012 with a decidedly pedestrian playoff record. Lohse had never posted a quality start or recorded a win in the postseason, and he lugged around a 5.54 ERA in nine appearances (four starts). Three starts into 2012, Lohse has dashed those previous struggles and has emerged as the most reliable starter on a team with aspirations of a repeat World Series championship.
It was difficult on Wednesday night in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, but Lohse made it work anyway. He needed 108 pitches to get 17 outs, his usually fine control not quite there. Lohse dodged multiple baserunners in inning after inning, and he refused to give in to the Giants' most dangerous hitters, instead willing to issue a walk rather than give up a big hit.
It wasn't the slightest bit pretty, but winning ugly is still winning.
"I didn't have good command, but I can't go out there and worry about that," Lohse said. "I just have to make my next pitch, and if that one doesn't work, then you just have to grind it out and make the next one. That's what I was doing out there. There [weren't] a whole lot of good pitches, but I didn't leave anything over the heart of the plate for them to punish."
In three starts this postseason, Lohse is 2-0 with a 1.96 ERA. He had issued two walks in his previous two starts before handing out five free passes on Wednesday. If the NLCS goes to a seventh game, Lohse would get the call for that contest, which says as much as anything about the faith that his team has in him.
"It all starts with our starting pitching," said manager Mike Matheny. "And Kyle Lohse, from the opening day of the season, has been such a steady starter for us and does a great job of figuring out how to get outs, even when he doesn't have his best stuff. I think today, he would probably say he didn't have his best, but he was still out making pitches and figuring out how to get outs."
The game turned for Lohse in the third inning. In the top of the frame, he found himself in some trouble. A soft single and a bloop double put men on second and third with no outs and the heart of the Giants' batting order coming to the plate. Lohse escaped.
Pablo Sandoval grounded a sinker on the outside part of the plate to shortstop, bringing in the first run of the game and advancing Marco Scutaro to second. Lohse fell behind Buster Posey, 3-0, then gave him an intentional fourth ball. Lohse then found himself in a 2-0 count against Hunter Pence, but Pence rolled over a slider and hit into a critical double play.
Matt Carpenter hit a two-run homer in the bottom half of the inning, putting Lohse and the Cards ahead, and the home team never trailed after that.
"It was huge," Lohse said, "because I had just given up the run, and with [starter Matt] Cain over there, you didn't know if that was going to be [enough to lose]. Just to answer right back and take the lead, I knew it was time to get my act together, to get it going. Unfortunately, I never did get that 1-2-3 inning to get me through, but [Carpenter] got me the lead, and as a pitcher, when you get a lead, you do everything to keep it."
Lohse worked around a walk and a single in the fourth, and he again was willing to walk Posey in the fifth -- this time with the bases empty and two outs. He nearly made it through the sixth, but was chased after a pair of two-out singles.
It was enough to put Lohse's team on the way to a win, though. And it was enough to stanch some of the bleeding from a starting rotation that was in dire need of innings. Once again, Lohse was the rock when his team needed it.
"You look up in the middle of the game and he's got a high pitch count," said third baseman David Freese, "but he's going to grind it out for you. ... What he's done all year, [it's] incredible."