Carpenter tosses one-hit shutout
La Russa describes starter's gem vs. Brewers as 'heroic'
MILWAUKEE -- Albert Pujols was typically great at Miller Park on Monday, and very little can overshadow that. But there is one thing that can: Chris Carpenter, when he's even greater than usual.
Carpenter pitched his second career one-hitter and first shutout in nearly three years on a perfect Labor Day afternoon, stifling the Brewers in a 3-0 Cardinals win. Pujols drove in two St. Louis runs and scored the third, but even the two-time MVP was outshined by his Cy Young Award-winning teammate.
"That's Nintendo ball," said Jody Gerut, the only Brewer who touched Carpenter for a base hit. "That's as good of stuff as I've seen this year, with the exception of that tough first start in Spring Training when you haven't seen pitching. He throws strikes with electric stuff."
St. Louis improved to 33-15 since the All-Star break and maintained its 11 1/2-game lead over the Cubs in the National League Central division. The Cardinals' magic number to win the division dropped to 14 with just under four weeks remaining in the season. The Redbirds also once again avoided losing back-to-back games, something they haven't done since July 25-26.
And it was largely due to Carpenter, with a nice assist from Pujols. Twice over the previous weekend series in Pittsburgh, one of the Cardinals' top starters had a lead and let it get away. There was to be nothing of the sort from Carpenter, who had no-hit stuff -- and command. The game was entirely reminiscent of his previous one-hitter -- June 14, 2005, in Toronto.
Carpenter dominated the Brewers en route to his 16th win of the season, one shy of teammate Adam Wainwright's Major League-leading total. Carpenter was scarcely touched, taking a no-hit bid into the fifth inning. The last time the 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner went the distance without allowing a run was Sept. 11, 2006, against Houston. He has won 11 consecutive decisions.
Magnifying the showing was the fact that the Cardinals badly needed innings from their ace. Closer Ryan Franklin is likely unavailable for the entirety of the series, and several other relievers were all but off-limits on Monday.
"That's a good example of how really good he is," manager Tony La Russa said. "First game of the series, we're trying to get to the finish line, Milwaukee's very tough in their park, and our bullpen's really short. Put it all together, it's heroic."
Carpenter allowed a first-inning walk but no other baserunners in the first four innings. He worked around Gerut's one-out double in the fifth, with help from a highlight-reel backhand play by Troy Glaus. The only other baserunner was a ninth-inning walk to pinch-hitter Craig Counsell. As the bullpen began to warm, Carpenter erased that runner by inducing a slick 6-3 double play off the bat of Corey Patterson.
Carpenter's fastball was sharp and had pop -- reaching 97 mph a few times and 98 once. His curveball was lethal, most notably on two swinging third strikes against Prince Fielder. Carpenter has been this good before, but it's hard to think of a game where he's been better.
"I felt like the whole thing revolved around being able to locate my fastball," he said. "I felt like I located my fastball pretty good all day and it had some nice movement on it. ... Today I was able to stay on top of the ball and get it going downhill. It had some nice movement on it. When you do that, you can pitch off the fastball and it makes all those other pitches that much [better]."
Pujols, meanwhile, drove the offensive effort on a day when his teammates' bats were mostly quiet. He stroked a go-ahead two-run double in the fifth inning, giving Carpenter all the runs he would need, then added on later. In the eighth, Pujols hit a leadoff double and came home to score on Matt Holliday's RBI single. It was more than enough for Carpenter, who moved the Cards one step closer to a division title.
Carpenter likely also bolstered his strengthening Cy Young Award case, but he insisted that's nowhere near the front of his mind.
"That's the least of my concerns," Carpenter said. "I've won one before, and it's super awesome and fun and nice, but I'd much rather go ahead and get to the playoffs and pitch in the postseason."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.