ST. LOUIS -- It had been 22 years since a Cardinals team had been as devoid of power as this 2014 unit, a group that hit a National League-low 105 home runs during the regular season. The power surge arrived along with October.Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong blasted the Cardinals
ST. LOUIS -- It had been 22 years since a Cardinals team had been as devoid of power as this 2014 unit, a group that hit a National League-low 105 home runs during the regular season. The power surge arrived along with October.
Matt Carpenter and Kolten Wong blasted the Cardinals to a 3-1 win and a 2-1 lead in their best-of-five series against the Dodgers on Monday. By winning the swing game of the NL Division Series, the Cardinals erased the necessity of having to beat both Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke to advance to a fourth straight NL Championship Series. Now, taking down just one of the two will do.
"Every game is an important game, but tonight was certainly a huge, huge game," Carpenter said, after becoming the first player in Major League history to double and homer in three straight postseason games. "This was certainly kind of a must-win, knowing that we do have Kershaw and Greinke left."
Wong electrified the largest crowd in Busch Stadium III history (47,574) with his tiebreaking homer in the seventh. It was even more than the Cardinals had hoped for, as they were playing for one run by bunting Yadier Molina over to third after his leadoff double.
Manager Mike Matheny stuck with his left-handed-hitting second baseman against lefty reliever Scott Elbert hours after explaining his decision to start Wong against left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu by noting that he was "giving him a shot to get in there and do something special today."
While the Cardinals would have settled for the tiebreaking run, Wong did one better, lining his first career playoff home run in his second career postseason start. It came, too, in his first home playoff game since being picked off to end Game 4 of the 2013 World Series. The emotion of the two moments couldn't have been more in contrast -- spiking his helmet then, rounding first base pumping his fist high in the air now.
"You saw it on my face," Wong said. "I definitely lost it -- you kind of lose it out there, the emotion came out. You're constantly working, trying to figure out how to make this game a little easier, how to finally succeed. And when you do, it's definitely one of those things you're really proud of."
Wong, like Molina and Jon Jay before him, connected on a first-pitch offspeed offering from Elbert.
"It looked like, from where we were at, that he was super calm up at the plate and was just ready to drive the ball," noted Matt Adams. "It was a huge hit."
The sellout crowd drew Wong out of the dugout for a curtain call, as they had for Carpenter after his solo homer off Ryu back in the third. Carpenter continued his torrid postseason start, giving the Cardinals their first series lead before the seventh inning as he became the first player in franchise history to homer in three straight games in the same postseason series. Albert Pujols was the only other to homer in three consecutive October games, spanning two series.
Carpenter, who had eight home runs over 595 at-bats this season and had never in his career gone deep in back-to-back games, has hit all three of his blasts off a different left-handed pitcher. He homered just twice off lefties in the previous six months.
Carpenter capped his night with a double, bumping his series extra-base hit total to six.
"The last couple of days it's felt pretty good," Carpenter said. "I would take it now [rather] than in the regular season anytime. This is when it matters. This is when it's fun."
With two home runs on Monday and six in the series, the Cardinals have tallied 10 of their 15 NLDS runs off the long ball. No other postseason participant has gone deep more to this point.
"We've got guys [who] can do it, but we're not preaching it," said Matheny, whose team never tallied a half-dozen homers in a three-game span during the season. "It isn't like we started October and all of a sudden say, 'We're going to hit homers.' They're just taking good at-bats, and when they do, the ball is going to jump out from time to time. Good time for it today."
Ryu, making his first appearance since Sept. 12, made no other costly pitches while carrying the Dodgers through six innings. But Cardinals starter John Lackey was just as dominant, setting up the offense's late-inning assist.
Making his 17th postseason start and taking over the lead for most postseason innings by an active pitcher, Lackey limited the Dodgers to one sixth-inning run in his seven-inning outing. He set the tone for a strong showing early by freezing Dee Gordon at third base in the first.
Adrian Gonzalez's fly ball to left wasn't deep enough for Gordon to challenge outfielder Matt Holliday. Matt Kemp flied out to end the threat.
"From the first pitch, he was outstanding," Molina said. "He was hitting his location. He was unbelievable tonight."
Lackey worked through the next four innings relatively easily, allowing two hits and retiring eight straight at one point. He nearly finagled his way around a Yasiel Puig leadoff triple in the sixth, too, though after Gonzalez and Kemp again turned in fruitless at-bats, Lackey served up a game-tying double to Hanley Ramirez.
Lackey stranded Ramirez with a strikeout, one of the eight he had on the night to equal his postseason high.
"I think there's definitely different energy, different adrenaline level," Lackey said of pitching on the October stage. "And that can take you to special places when you use it the right way."
The Dodgers also felt Lackey benefited from home-plate umpire Dale Scott's liberal strike zone.
"I thought Dale was very generous," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "And it puts you in a bind. You keep giving pitches, changing counts. Obviously, you can't go too far with it. But real generous."
A winner in each of his last three DS games, Lackey watched Pat Neshek and Trevor Rosenthal preserve the lead to notch the Cardinals' 52nd home victory of the season. Rosenthal, after putting the potential tying runs aboard, got an assist from grounds-crew members, who manicured the mound after he complained of having issues with his footing. He followed the brief delay by inducing two flyouts.
The chance for home win No. 53 -- with a champagne shower to accompany it -- will come behind Shelby Miller and against Kershaw on Tuesday (4 p.m. CT on FOX Sports 1).
"If you want to win the World Series, you're going to have to face good pitchers," Molina said. "That's going to happen tomorrow. We have a good team, and we've been here. We never give up."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.