NLCS: Cardinals edge Brewers 4-3

Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal, right, is congratulated by Albert Pujols after scoring in the Cardinals' 4-3 win in Game 4 of the NLCS. (MCT PHOTO)

ST. LOUIS -- The two surviving members of the National League are about as evenly matched as possible.

Even before they battled steady rain during the third game of the NL Championship Series on Wednesday night, the Cardinals and Brewers had split their 20 games played this season.

"I think we are two really good teams, very evenly balanced," Cardinal manager Tony La Russa said. "You cannot predict who is going to win."

It was the Cardinals who finally prevailed Wednesday, 4-3, to take a one-game lead heading into Thursday's key Game 4, featuring Kyle Lohse and Randy Wolf.

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke made one key change to his lineup before Wednesday's game, inserting Mark Kotsay into center field in place of Nyjer Morgan.

"I always feel good when Kotsay is in the lineup," Roenicke said before the game. "Especially when we start him, he seems to have a big day, something always good seems to happen when he's in there."

That was before Wednesday's first inning, when Kotsay not only got doubled off second base on a fly ball but missed a diving catch in center, allowing the Cardinals to score their first run.

By the time the first inning was over, the Brewers and starter Yovani Gallardo found themselves in a 4-0 hole.

Gallardo had lost seven of eight previous decisions against the Cardinals. Gallardo had trouble finding the strike zone and when he did, the Cardinals hit it.

Leadoff man Rafael Furcal got the ball rolling with a single, advancing to second base on a wild pitch before John Jay's smash to center eluded Kotsay.

Albert Pujols then got into the act, driving home Jay with a booming double. Gallardo walked the next two before getting a double play that scored the third run. The fourth came on David Freese's RBI double.

Pujols, who drove in five runs in Game 2, singled his second time up Wednesday, then was walked intentionally the next two times with runners in scoring position.

"We need to keep (the first two hitters) off the bases," Roenicke said. "I always talk about a solo home run, it's only one run. But when you hit two- and three-run homers, they really hurt."

Cardinal starter Chris Carpenter was nearly as shaky as Gallardo, walking a batter and hitting another before Prince Fielder hit into a double play to end the short-lived rally.

Carpenter allowed three straight hits and two runs in the second inning, then in the third another run on Kotsay's 416-foot homer.

By the sixth inning, both starters had turned the game over to the bullpens.

dvandyck@tribune.com

Twitter @davandyck