The Cardinals won 10 fewer games than the majors-best Nationals this season and finished second in the NL Central, nine games behind Cincinnati, sneaking into the postseason as the league's second wild-card under this year's new format. But the Cardinals become a different bunch in the high-pressure playoffs — no matter that slugger Albert Pujols and manager Tony La Russa are no longer around.
Carpenter still is, even though even he didn't expect to be pitching this year when he encountered problems during spring training and needed what Cardinals manager Mike Matheny termed a "radical" operation in July to correct a nerve problem.
"Everyone had written him off, kind of," Jay said. "It could have been a season-ending injury, where he could have just gone home and said, 'See you later.'"
The top rib on Carpenter's right side was removed, along with muscles that were constricting blood flow up there. After Wednesday's game, he squeezed his big right hand with his left, explaining, "Basically, my nerves were getting squished down by all the scar tissue and all the muscles and everything. There wasn't enough space."
Still adjusting to the way breathing feels different, he returned Sept. 21, going 0-2 in three starts totaling 17 innings, so it wasn't clear how he'd fare Wednesday.
Carpenter allowed seven hits and walked two across his 5 2-3 innings to improve to 10-2 over his career in the postseason. That includes a 4-0 mark while helping another group of wild-card Cardinals take the title in the 2011 World Series, when he won Game 7 against Texas.
The 10 victories tie Carpenter for seventh-most, behind Andy Pettitte's record 19.
"If the baseball world doesn't know what an amazing competitor he is by now, they haven't been paying any attention," Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday said.
Carpenter collected a pair of hits, including a double off the wall in the fifth that was about a foot or two away from being a homer. When he reached second base, he raised his right fist.
Earlier, Carpenter stepped to the plate for his first at-bat and chatted with umpire Joe West.
"I say hello to him. And he said hello back, and he talked about what a beautiful day it was to play a baseball game. And I was like, 'You ain't kidding,'" Carpenter recounted. "Beautiful weather. The crowd is going crazy. ... There's no question you take time to reflect on that."
NOTES: Holliday fouled a ball off his left leg in the eighth, stayed in to deliver a two-run single, then left for a pinch runner. ... Lohse beat the Braves in the wild-card game. ... Detwiler will be making the first postseason appearance of his career. His last regular-season start also came against the Cardinals, and he went only 2 1-3 innings, giving up seven runs. ... Wednesday was the 88th anniversary of Washington's only World Series championship, won by the Senators on Oct. 10, 1924.
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich