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WS2011 Gm1: La Russa pinch-hits Craig, who delivers

ST. LOUIS -- The bashing took a break. The winning didn't. A Cardinals team that was developing a reputation as some sort of hulking softball team showed off another of the clubs in its rather full bag on Wednesday night.

The Cardinals rode six strong innings from Chris Carpenter, another stifling bullpen effort and a pair of run-scoring singles to a win in Game 1 of the World Series, 3-2, over the Texas Rangers at Busch Stadium. If a perception emerged during the National League Championship Series that the Cards would need to bash the ball to win, that perception is mistaken.

You don't get this far without an ability to win in plenty of different ways. On Wednesday, the home team played strong defense and took advantage of a couple of chances against Texas starter C.J. Wilson and reliever Alexi Ogando to secure the win. St. Louis won for the 31st time in 44 games, dating back to the regular season.

The team winning Game 1 of the Fall Classic has gone on to win the series 66 out of 106 times in the history of the event. The last 10 teams to win Game 1 at home have gone on to be World Series champions.

"When you get in the postseason, you have to win games in so many ways," said David Freese, who scored the winning run. "Not every game is going to be the same. Teams that win 90, 95, 100 games, they win ballgames different ways the entire year."

DISTINCT ADVANTAGE
The winner of Game 1 of the World Series has won 12 of the last 14 and 13 of 16 in the Wild Card era.
Year Game 1 winner World champions
2010 Giants Giants in 5
2009 Phillies Yankees in 6
2008 Phillies Phillies in 5
2007 Red Sox Red Sox in 4
2006 Cardinals Cardinals in 5
2005 White Sox White Sox in 4
2004 Red Sox Red Sox in 4
2003 Marlins Marlins in 6
2002 Giants Angels in 7
2001 D-backs D-backs in 7
2000 Yankees Yankees in 5
1999 Yankees Yankees in 4
1998 Yankees Yankees in 4
1997 Marlins Marlins in 7
1996 Braves Yankees in 6
1995 Braves Braves in 6

Carpenter didn't last as long as he might have liked, but this time, it had nothing to do with his effectiveness. He was lifted for pinch-hitter Allen Craig in the bottom of the sixth, and Craig delivered the go-ahead single. Carpenter had needed a mere 87 pitches to get to that point, and he had just retired the Rangers' Nos. 3 and 4 hitters to escape the sixth.

Carpenter was almost certainly good for more innings, bolstering his assertion a day earlier that he is physically fine. He dealt with some elbow soreness earlier in October, but evidence of that issue was nowhere to be found as he handcuffed one of baseball's best lineups.

"They made pitches when they had to, that was pretty much it," Rangers first baseman Michael Young said. "Carpenter looked sharp, and their bullpen threw well."

Carpenter also got quite a boost from his defense. Yadier Molina threw out Ian Kinsler trying to steal in the first inning, setting nerves at ease throughout Busch Stadium. Albert Pujols made a pair of impressive stops on grounders, and nearly everything that was hit to the outfield was caught.

And, of course, the offense did its part. The heart of the Cardinals' order hooked up to put them ahead, briefly, in the fourth. Pujols was hit on the foot by a pitch to lead off the inning, and went to third when Matt Holliday doubled to right field. Both men scored when Lance Berkman, bumped down to the fifth spot in the order against the left-handed starter, poked a go-ahead single.

It was a welcome breakthrough against Wilson, who was not at his sharpest but hadn't yielded up to that point. And yet as long as it took the Cards to get the go-ahead runs, they gave them back quickly. Carpenter, so precise for most of the night, had a brief slip-up, and it cost him.

Adrian Beltre singled on a sinker to lead off the fifth. Two batters later, Carpenter missed with what was supposed to be an outside fastball, and Mike Napoli showed why that's a bad thing to do. Napoli drilled the sinker, which strayed much too far over the plate, to straightaway right field for a tying homer.

That was all Texas would get against Carpenter, however. He worked around a leadoff single and sacrifice bunt in the sixth, getting Josh Hamilton and Young with a runner in scoring position in a tie game.

"He's our guy," Berkman said. "When he takes the mound, we feel like we're going to win the game every time."

Unperturbed by the tie score, St. Louis -- so often a short-sequence, big-inning kind of team -- once again scratched out a lead in the sixth without benefit of the long ball. Freese stayed torrid with an opposite-field double, and Nick Punto drew a one-out walk as the Rangers decided they'd rather face a pinch-hitter and take their chances against the Cardinals' bullpen.

The free pass was technically unintentional, but it was clearly by design. Punto didn't see anything close to a strike during the at-bat. The idea was to get into the Cards' bullpen by forcing manager Tony La Russa to lift Carpenter, but it was the wrong idea.

The move didn't work, as La Russa had Craig waiting. The second-year stick, a liability coming off the bench a year earlier, once again delivered a critical pinch-hit. Craig's single to right field, nearly caught by Nelson Cruz, scored Freese for the game-deciding run.

That made Carpenter the winning pitcher for the eighth time in his postseason career, passing Bob Gibson for a St. Louis franchise record -- though it's worth noting that all of Gibson's wins came in the World Series, where Carpenter is now 2-0. Craig's at-bat also meant Carpenter was done for the night, handing the ball over to what was again an airtight bullpen.

Fernando Salas was a bit shaky in the seventh, but Marc Rzepczynski got a pair of strikeouts, both against right-handed hitters, to bail him out. Octavio Dotel and Arthur Rhodes tag-teamed the eighth -- with Rhodes retiring the extremely dangerous Hamilton to end the frame -- and Jason Motte kept doing what he's been doing to close out the win in the ninth.

"We have a well-rounded team," Craig said. "We've been playing good 'D,' the starting pitching has been pretty good. The bullpen has been good. And we've been getting timely hits. I don't know what everyone else has been thinking about our team, but we know what we can do. We've just got to come out and keep doing it."

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