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Obstacles no problem for Cardinals

Despite changes, they continue tradition of defying all odds

Phil Rogers

On Baseball

October 18, 2012

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ST. LOUIS — As the front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said, "No Albert, no Tony, no problem.''

With that in the public record, what's the big deal with a marathon rain delay?

It was no sweat for the Cardinals. Not much is these days.

Not a change of managers, not the absence of Albert Pujols and not a two-out, ninth-inning deficit to the Nationals in Washington. These Cardinals do adversity the way Emmitt Smith does the Argentine Tango.

We'll see if they can play from ahead as well.

Thanks mostly to a two-run homer from Matt Carpenter off Matt Cain and a strong bullpen, they beat the Giants 3-1 Wednesday to take a two games to one lead in the National League Championship Series.

The game started at 3:08 p.m., with gray skies over the Gateway Arch, and ended at 9:38. It was interrupted by a 3-hour, 28-minute rain delay that caused about half of the 45,850 fans to exit Busch Stadium early.

Maybe they were bored. The Cardinals were leading. The real fun comes when they're behind.

Including their wild-card victory over the Braves, they're trying to win a sixth consecutive postseason series over the last two years, and you wouldn't say they have steam-rolled anyone.

The Cardinals are 17-10 in postseason games the last two seasons. They have just sort of hung around until the games they have had to win, going 11-10 when they could afford a loss and 6-0 in elimination games. They survived five-game Division Series against the Phillies and Nationals and stunned the Rangers after being on the brink of elimination in Game 6 of the World Series last October.

Most of us smart guys felt the Cardinals were cooked this year. After all, they had lost Pujols, Tony La Russa and Hall of Fame worthy pitching coach Dave Duncan after their championship season. They couldn't catch the Reds in the NL Central chase this year but they're showing that wild-card teams still can be dangerous in the new postseason format.

Two more victories and they go to the World Series for the fourth time in nine years.

Adam Wainwright, who will start against Tim Lincecum in Game 4, calls manager Mike Matheny "the sharpest dressed guy I've ever seen,'' but he's not afraid to manage like one of the guys who used to wear jackets and ties at the end of the dugout.

Matheny took the caveman approach after the rain delay, bringing in Jason Motte to protect a 3-1 lead rather than try to mix and match in his bullpen for the eighth inning, a la La Russa, before turning to his closer in the ninth.

Motte worked a no-nonsense outing. He was perfect in the eighth and just as perfect in the ninth, when he got the Giants' 1-2-3 hitters.

"We were hoping Jason would do what he needed to do,'' Matheny said. "He was terrific.''

While lounging in the clubhouse, the Giants were no doubt considering how easily they could have been ahead. Kyle Lohse made it into the sixth inning but was not especially sharp, which he showed when he walked two Brandons (Belt and Crawford) in the second inning.

The Giants were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, including Mitchell Boggs' back-to-back strikeouts of Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt after the tying run was on second base in the seventh inning.

"We had our chances,'' San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said. "We left too many on base.''

The Cardinals had just pushed that lead to 3-1 in the seventh inning when crew chief Gary Darling stopped play.

With Cain pitching, this was a game the Giants really needed to win. In a decision that could bee second-guessed over the winter, Bochy said after the loss that he will use a five-man rotation against the Cardinals to lessen the load on 23-year-old lefty Madison Bumgarner.

Bochy essentially said Bumgarner, a 16-game winner, is done for the series. He's going to use Barry Zito in Game 5 and will have Ryan Vogelsong and Cain lined up for Games 6 and 7 if the series goes back to San Francisco.

Yes, he's shutting down a young starter, albeit not in such a calculated way as the Nationals did Stephen Strasburg. There's going to be howling in the Bay Area.

It's a sound often heard after playing the Cardinals.

progers@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribRogers