A baseball team spends six months grinding through a long regular season, and for the very best a 98-win season feels like a significant accomplishment. But in October, every one of those victories is rendered meaningless, and in the blink of an eye a wonderful season can end.

The Nationals face that prospect now after an ugly 8-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday afternoon in Game 3 of a National League Division Series at Nationals Park. Pete Kozma's three-run home run in the second inning provided all the runs veteran right-hander Chris Carpenter would need.

(View photo galleries with images from the game or the scene at Nationals Park)

Washington is now down 2-1 in the series, and its brilliant 2012 will end with a loss Thursday against St. Louis. A win extends the season and sets up a decisive Game 5 on Friday night at Nationals Park.

Kozma's home run was the big blow off Edwin Jackson, who allowed four runs on eight hits in five innings with four strikeouts and a walk. A single with two out in the first inning and a double by Allen Craig quickly put St. Louis ahead 1-0 in the first.

The Cardinals added a run on a Daniel Descalso sacrifice fly in the sixth inning and another in the seventh when Nats reliever Christian Garcia walked in another with the bases loaded to make it 6-0. Holliday drove home two more runs in the eighth with an RBI single to right off reliever Ryan Mattheus. That rally also came with two outs and no one on base.

All the while Washington tried futilely to push across some runs, missing chance after chance to do so against Carpenter and then the Cardinals' bullpen. The Nats were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. They stranded two men on base in the first. They left Ian Desmond sitting on second in the fourth with one out. Michael Morse popped out to right with the bases loaded in the fifth. Jayson Werth popped out in foul territory to first base in the sixth with two men on. It was that kind of game.

Carpenter, the 37-year-old veteran who pitched St. Louis to the World Series title last season, had pitched just three games after July surgery to free compressed nerves that had weakened his shoulder. But he made big pitches when needed and allowed seven hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings to keep Washington at bay. Carpenter threw a season-high 106 pitches, 69 of them for strikes. That's the most pitches Carpenter has thrown since the 110 he tossed during a 1-0 masterpiece in Game 5 of the NLDS against Philadelphia ace Roy Halladay last Oct. 7.