ST. LOUIS -- As Wednesday afternoon spun out into Wednesday night here at Busch Stadium, the Giants survived much.

They survived a driving rain and a tornado warning. They survived a 200—minute weather delay, a faithfully supportive Cardinals' crowd, a Clydesdale horse posing for pictures outside the ballpark and chilly-dank temperatures in the 50s by the final pitch.

But they could not survive ... Matt Carpenter?

Yes. Matt Carpenter.

Of all the players on the St. Louis Cardinals roster, Carpenter was among those who surely least concerned the Giants prior to Game 3. Carpenter, a rookie outfielder and infielder, had not played in Game 1 or Game 2. Carpenter was not in Wednesday's starting lineup for St. Louis -- and only entered it because of a knee injury to rightfielder Carlos Beltran in the first inning.

And yet, Carpenter was the Giants' unlikely undoing in the 3-1 defeat.

"It was definitely a surprise," Carpenter said. "I didn't even realize that Carlos had hurt himself. I was in the game before I really had time to think about it."

And just like that, along came one of those classic unpredictable postseason moments, the ones that either allow baseball to embrace your heart (if you are on the winning side) or drive you crazy (if you are the loser).

It did happen quickly. Matt Cain, the Giants' starting pitcher, was rolling along in the early going. He had retired seven of the first nine St. Louis batters he faced. But in the third inning, after replacing the hurt Beltran, up came Carpenter with a runner on first base. He promptly smoked a homer over the right field bullpen to give St. Louis a 2-1 lead -- and the only runs needed by the Cardinals.


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In retrospect, however, Carpenter's big blow might not have been as unpredictable as at first blush. He was used mostly as a pinch hitter and late-inning replacement this season. But Carpenter had previously faced Cain four times -- and was 4-for-4 against him. After the homer, make it 5-for-5.

"You never know when the pivotal point of the game is going to be," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, who claimed he did not insert Carpenter because of his success against Cain.

"I knew he was 4-for-4 off of him," Matheny said. "But to me, Carpenter is a guy we try to get to, and get at-bats for, whenever we can. ... It was nice to see him take advantage of the opportunity, a big shot in the arm for us."

Not the sort of shot the Giants welcomed. And it brought back a little nostalgia, in a bad way. Back in 1987, just like this year, these same two teams met in the National League Championship Series. The Cardinals advanced to the World Series when a low-profile utility infielder named Jose Oquendo slammed a three-run homer to win Game 7 and the NLCS.

Carpenter's blow Wednesday was not totally Oquendo-esque. It obviously did not decide the series. There is still much baseball to be played. But it will haunt the Giants unless they grab the steering wheel and turn the series back in their favor Thursday night with Tim Lincecum on the mound.

The numbers work against the Giants now. In the history of postseason baseball, when a best-of-seven series was tied 1-1 entering Game 3 as occurred Wednesday, the winner of that Game 3 has gone on to finish off 72.3 percent of those series.

Such a frustrating night it was for the Giants trying to fight off those odds. They left 11 runners on base, stranded seven runners in scoring position. They had to think about all that while enduring a more than three-hour rain delay that began in the seventh inning when a storm slammed downtown St. Louis.

In the end, the Giants scored their only run of the night on a groundout by Pablo Sandoval. Hunter Pence, one of their alleged big bats, went hitless for the second straight game. This is not how to reach the World Series, gentlemen.

San Francisco Giants’ starting pitcher Matt Cain
San Francisco Giants' starting pitcher Matt Cain (18) sits in the dugout against the St. Louis Cardinals in the top of the seventh inning of Game 3 of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Wednesday. (Gary Reyes/Staff)

The clubhouse afterward was hardly distraught. These are professional athletes, ones who overcame a 2-0 deficit against Cincinnati to come back and win the first-round series. But it still had to be annoying to be, say, Buster Posey. He reached base three times and never scored.

"It's a cliché, I know, but you've just got to stay positive," Posey said. "No matter what's happening, you've got to think about the work you put in, realize you've prepared yourself and be ready."

Carpenter, over in the home clubhouse, was still in a bit of a daze. He was very aware of his success against Cain. But his attitude might be a good one for the Giants to copy moving forward: Be prepared for anything, because any moment might decide everything.

"I thought," Carpenter said, "that if Cain was in the game late and it was a pinch-hitting situation, that my name might get called. Obviously, I didn't think the third inning would be my place in the game. But those things happen. You've just got to be ready for them. And I think I was."

Given that shutdown Cardinals' bullpen, surviving is going to be even harder for the Giants from this point, unless they get early leads and/or start driving in runners. They've got the chance Thursday to show they understand the concept.

Or the chance to find their own Matt Carpenter.