Carpenter's hit highlighted an eight-run seventh inning, and the Cardinals went on to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 10-9 in a fiery NL Division Series opener Friday.
"It makes it more fun when you're playing against somebody that is known as being the best pitcher in the game," said Carpenter, who also homered off Kershaw. "When I get in those at-bats versus him I just try to fight. He's coming right after me, seems like every time I face him I'm down 0-2 and I got to fight my way back."
It was 92 degrees at gametime, and things quickly got more heated in a surprising slugfest.
St. Louis overcame a five-run deficit against Kershaw and held on when Trevor Rosenthal blew a 100-mph fastball past Yasiel Puig with a runner on third to end a back-and-forth game that lasted nearly four hours.
"I'm sure everybody in baseball was expecting a one-run game," Carpenter said. "We ended up getting one, but we didn't think it would be 10-9."
Game 2 is Saturday night with St. Louis' Lance Lynn facing Los Angeles' Zack Greinke, the 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner.
In a matchup of 20-game winners, Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright hit Puig with a pitch leading off the third, triggering a bench-clearing scrum. There was shoving and shouting, but no punches were thrown.
Wainwright wilted first on the mound, allowing six runs and 11 hits in 4 2-3 innings.
"I stunk, and those guys just completely picked me up. I was so proud," he said about his teammates. "The guys never quit and kept chipping away against the toughest pitcher out there and, gosh, it's a huge win."
Kershaw failed once again in the post-season.
The left-hander whose 1.77 ERA led the major leagues for the fourth consecutive year came in eager to erase the memory of his poor showing in Game 6 of last year's NL Championship Series, when the Dodgers were eliminated by the Cardinals.
"Obviously my fault to let them get back in the game," Kershaw said. "We have a great team and if I don't get in the way, we have a pretty good chance to win that game."
Kershaw dominated through the first six innings, retiring 16 in a row between homers by Randal Grichuk and Carpenter.
But he collapsed in a shaky seventh, when he gave up five of the Cardinals' eight runs and became the first pitcher in post-season history to allow seven runs in consecutive starts. He yielded that many in losing Game 6 last year.
"He gives up a hit or two and you always feel like he's going to get out of it, he's always going to rebound," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
Kershaw, a heavy favourite to win a third Cy Young Award in four years, fell to 1-4 with a career 5.20 ERA in the post-season.
The Dodgers rallied again in the ninth, pulling to 10-9 after Dee Gordon's RBI groundout scored A.J. Ellis, who singled. But Puig struck out swinging against Rosenthal, who reached 100 mph on five of the seven pitches in the at-bat.
Adrian Gonzalez pulled the Dodgers to 10-8 with a two-run homer in the eighth off Randy Choate. They had the potential tying run at the plate when pinch-hitter Justin Turner grounded to third to end the inning.
The Cardinals ripped four consecutive singles to centre field to open the seventh. Matt Adams and Jon Jay had RBI singles, drawing them to 6-4.
Carpenter then doubled to deep right, driving in three runs for a 7-6 lead and chasing Kershaw. He allowed eight runs and eight hits in 6 2-3 innings, struck out 10 and walked none.
Pedro Baez came on and walked Grichuk. Matt Holliday followed with a three-run homer, silencing the 54,265 blue towel-waving fans and extending the Cardinals' lead to 10-6.
Kershaw allowed a two-out homer to Carpenter in the sixth that left St. Louis trailing 6-2.
Wainwright, a 20-game winner with the NL's third-best ERA of 2.38, struggled mightily in the third and fourth innings at Dodger Stadium, where he has never been at his best. The right-hander allowed a pair of two-out runs in both innings, with the Dodgers taking a 4-1 lead.
Marco Gonzales got the victory in one inning of relief. Trevor Rosenthal pitched the ninth to earn the save.
The early scrum clearly fired up the Dodgers, who took a 2-1 lead in the third.
After getting drilled, Puig went to take first base and Gonzalez began jawing with Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina.
Molina and Gonzalez went face-to-face yelling and soon both benches and bullpens emptied, creating a scrum around home plate.
"I know they're upset at what happened last year and this year they don't want the same," Molina said. "Obviously they're upset about it, but at the same time, if you're upset, you can't scream at it. You've got to have some respect, too."
A year ago, Cardinals pitcher Joe Kelly hit Hanley Ramirez in the ribs in the NLCS opener, limiting the shortstop for the rest of the matchup. The teams traded hit by pitches earlier this season, too.
Puig later gave Wainwright a friendly pat as he took his base.
"I walked over to Yasiel and I said, 'Hey that was my bad. I didn't mean to do that,'" Wainwright said. "I just didn't want it to be a sideshow. Obviously you don't want to wake a sleeping dog, and I didn't want our team to lose its focus. I tried to clear the air there."
Ellis, who hit .191 during the regular season, had four of the Dodgers 16 hits, including a two-run homer in the fifth that chased Wainwright. Ellis also scored three runs.
Ramirez got things going with two outs in the third, singling past diving second baseman Pete Kozma as Puig scored from second to tie the game at 1. Crawford's ground-rule double into deep right field scored Ramirez, who had stolen second.
Cardinals: Lynn (15-10, 2.74 ERA) is making his fourth consecutive post-season appearance with the Cardinals since reaching the majors in 2011. His five playoff wins are tied for third-most all-time on the club, trailing Chris Carpenter (10) and Bob Gibson (seven).
Dodgers: Greinke (17-8, 2.71) says the Cardinals' hitters make adjustments better than most other teams, citing CF Jon Jay who went from chasing off-speed pitches one year to becoming good at handling them the next.