SAN FRANCISCO — Chris Carpenter had to figure there might be a hitch at some point along the way in his remarkable return.
The St. Louis Cardinals’ longtime postseason ace came back from a complicated operation that removed a rib and two neck muscles just to get on the mound again this October for the reigning World Series champions.
His recent run of spectacular playoff pitching ended in one rough inning as St. Louis lost Game 2 of the NL championship series to the San Francisco Giants 7-1 on Monday night and headed back home to Busch Stadium with the best-of-seven matchup tied at 1.
Carpenter surrendered Angel Pagan’s leadoff homer in the first, then made quick work of the Giants with consecutive 11-pitch innings before a mistake-filled fourth did in the Cardinals.
And, strangely enough on this night, Carpenter might have helped the Cardinals more with his bat than his arm. He hit an RBI double in the second inning off Ryan Vogelsong for St. Louis’ lone run.
In the fourth, Carpenter was charged with a throwing error when he fielded Brandon Crawford’s tough chopper to his left and made a rushed throw to first that was out of reach for Allen Craig. That allowed the go-ahead run to come home, and San Francisco added another when left fielder Matt Holliday misplayed Marco Scutaro’s two-run single and a third run scored on the play.
Carpenter’s night was done after that, a 29-pitch inning. The bearded right-hander took a seat in the dugout, stone faced and seemingly unfazed. He allowed two earned runs, five in all, and six hits in four innings — and his postseason ERA in two outings this year is still an impressive 1.86.
He certainly will be eager for another chance, and soon: Carpenter is ultra-competitive, one of the Cardinals’ most decorated players and their winningest pitcher in the postseason with 10 victories.