ST. LOUIS -- Sometimes all it takes is one at-bat to make a game -- and a season.
On Friday night, that at-bat belonged to Matt Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals.
With Game 6 of the National League Championship Series scoreless in the bottom of the third, Carpenter came to bat against a vulnerable Clayton Kershaw with one out and nobody on. Over the next five-plus minutes Carpenter saw 11 pitches, fouling eight of them off before finally hitting one fair into the right-field corner for a double.
Four pitches later Carlos Beltran singled Carpenter home, the first score in a four-run rally in which Kershaw would face 10 batters, throw 48 pitchers, give up five hits and watch the Los Angeles Dodgers' season go down the drain in what would become a 9-0 loss that sent the Cardinals on to the World Series.
"Great at-bat. That was a game-changer," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis marveled. "Matt Carpenter is the guy that makes that lineup go."
Carpenter has been the Cardinals' go-to guy all year, leading the majors with 199 hits, 126 runs and 55 doubles during the regular season. The postseason has been a bit more of a struggle, though, with Carpenter going one for 19 in the division series and hitting .167 overall.
And though his double was just one of 13 hits the Cardinals had Friday, it was clearly the biggest.
"The thing about the postseason is one at-bat can kind of change the way that things are going for you," Carpenter said. "You just have to keep competing, keep fighting.
"And that was the at-bat that kind of set us loose."
Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny agreed.
"To me, where the game changed is when Matt had the opportunity to get up there and fight off some real tough pitches from a very tough pitcher," he said.
There were other heroes for St. Louis.
Rookie right-hander Michael Wacha gave up just two hits in seven scoreless innings, winning for the third time in a postseason in which he has allowed one run in 21 innings. He was named NLCS most valuable player.
Carlos Beltran, whose teams before Friday had lost all seven times he took the field with a World Series berth on the line, had three hits and two runs batted in.
And Shane Robinson, whose only previous postseason hit had been a pinch-hit home run in Game 4 of this series, started in center field and had two hits, driving in two runs in the third and scoring in the Cardinals' five-run fifth.
But maybe none of that happens without Carpenter's filibuster-long third-inning at-bat.
It started with a slider for ball, then three four-seam fastballs that Carpenter fouled off, falling behind 1-2.
"I struck out my first at-bat. And honestly, when he got two strikes on me the second at-bat, my mind-set immediately changed. I'm not striking out," Carpenter said.
The next three pitches were breaking balls -- a 75-mph curveball and two 88-mph sliders. Carpenter fouled those off, too.
"He kept making good pitches and I kept fouling them off," Carpenter continued. "Then the crowd started getting into it a little bit."
So Kershaw went back to the fastball, with Carpenter fouling back two, sandwiched around another that missed for a ball. But a pattern had emerged; Kershaw wouldn't throw more than three fastballs in a row. So Carpenter was ready when the slider came, spanking it into the right-field corner for a double.
"I got a slider I could handle and hit the double. And that ended up being the start to that big inning," he said. "It ended up being the difference in the game."
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