Chris Carpenter was aiming to be back pitching for the Cardinals next year.

He's well ahead of schedule. He is starting for St. Louis on Monday in Game 2 of the NLCS - three months after having a rib removed, along with two muscles in his neck.

At the time of that surgery to resolve a nerve problem, Carpenter said his goal simply was to know this winter whether he'd be OK to pitch for St. Louis next year. His rehab went so well, however, he was back on the mound in September, and on Wednesday, he worked 5 2/3 scoreless innings at Washington in the Cards' 8-0 rout in Game 3 of the National League Division Series.

"You would have thought that his life depended on us winning that game," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "And he's contagious. He was screaming at everybody like he always does, and the message was: Believe in yourselves and believe in us, and we can do something here, no matter what the odds."

Carpenter would know. There were no guarantees that the 37-year-old right-hander would return to baseball after the July procedure for thoracic outlet syndrome. He'd considered the operation going all the way back to 2008 as he began to experience numbness in his right arm, but given the uncertain outcome, he decided against it, saying he was "a lot more scared" at the time.

But then, Carpenter said, the condition worsened. "It was just constantly numb, almost like sleeping, and then it started going up into my face and stuff," he said. "I wasn't as scared as much. It was the last shot. I wanted to try to pitch again."