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MIL@STL: Carpenter sharp in shutout gem vs. Brewers

ST. LOUIS -- This one was all Chris Carpenter.

Two weeks after Carpenter was pulled from a shutout bid in an eventual Cardinals loss, the team's longtime ace got to finish his own gem on Wednesday. Pushing aside a late contretemps, Carpenter pitched his first shutout since 2009 and his first at home since 2006 as the Cardinals beat the Brewers, 2-0, at Busch Stadium.

It was the 32nd complete game and 14th shutout of Carpenter's Major League career. Sixteen days earlier, he was pulled after leading off the ninth with a hit batter in a 1-0 game, and the Cards lost by a 2-1 count. On Wednesday, the St. Louis bullpen never even stirred.

Carpenter struck out five and walked two, allowing four hits. He needed a mere 97 pitches to finish the game. Even when hard feelings bubbled up between the two rival clubs in the ninth, the famously fiery Carpenter stayed out of the fray, collected himself and finished the job.

"Real good stuff, real good location, great concentration, the whole package tonight," said manager Tony La Russa.

Just like on Aug. 22 against the Dodgers, Carpenter encountered a potential bump in the road after facing the first batter of the ninth. This time it wasn't an issue for him. After he struck out Nyjer Morgan, Morgan swore at Carpenter -- though Morgan claimed that Carpenter said something first. Albert Pujols approached the scene, hoping to keep Carpenter out of the exchange, he said.

Both benches and bullpens emptied, though the disagreement never reached the level of physical altercation. Yet all the while, Carpenter, who has had issues with Morgan in the past, stayed off to the side.

When play resumed, he retired Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, the Brewers' two most dangerous hitters, on a total of four pitches to end the game.

"I was focused on what I was doing," Carpenter said. "I was focused on executing pitches and I'm not going to allow him to take me out of my game. ... I'm not going to allow it to happen. I don't know if that's the way he plays, to try to get guys out of their game or what. But I've been around too long to allow that to happen, I can tell you that much."

The Redbirds used a little small ball and a little thunder to get to Zack Greinke, who suffered little in comparison with Carpenter.

After missing chances to plate runs with multiple men on base in both the first and third, St. Louis struck in the fourth. Lance Berkman poked a leadoff double down the right-field line, taking third on Skip Schumaker's sacrifice bunt. Yadier Molina's sacrifice fly put the home team on the board. An inning later, Rafael Furcal hit his sixth home run in 34 games as a Cardinal, a leadoff shot in the fifth.

"We got burned a bunch by Furcal," Greinke said. "I wasn't trying to attack him too much, but ended up missing by a little bit."

Those two runs were all Carpenter would need -- and it didn't take a scout or an analyst to know it even at the time. The right-hander was dealing. He faced the minimum on 29 pitches through the first three innings. He got into a bit of trouble with a one-out double in the fourth, but worked around it.

Carpenter also benefited from some impressive defense. Jon Jay made a key play to run down Fielder's liner with two on and two out in the sixth. Furcal made a sweet grab on a looping liner from Yuniesky Betancourt in the seventh.

The win pulled the Cardinals within 8 1/2 games of the first-place Brewers in the National League Central with 19 games left in the regular season. However, the two clubs have no more head-to-head games scheduled.

Instead, the likelier path for St. Louis to make the playoffs is now the NL Wild Card. The Cards trail the Braves by 6 1/2 games in that race, and they have three games against Atlanta coming up over the weekend at Busch Stadium.

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