Cards roll behind Carpenter's 10th victory
Right-hander yields just one run in eight dominant innings
ST. LOUIS -- A simple tweak in his delivery was the difference for Chris Carpenter between eight innings of one-run ball and six innings with four allowed the last time out. A minor adjustment in the pre-pitch setup, and the curveball command was back, the fastball control returned to its usual sharpness.
The All-Star pitcher returned to his usual form, picking up his 10th win of the season in a 7-1 beating of the Dodgers on Thursday. He didn't walk a batter for the first time since June 2 and 70 of the 101 total pitches went for strikes.
In the previous three games, the veteran righty had allowed 14 earned runs in 16 innings and lost his last two decisions. While the defense didn't help his cause in his worst outing of the season against the Brewers, Carpenter also walked eight batters over the previous three games and was stung for 24 hits.
The former National League Cy Young Award winner may not be giving away the details for what caused the mini-funk, but his results on the mound Thursday show he clearly knows what was amiss -- and more important, how to fix it.
"I definitely felt better," Carpenter said of his delivery. "I still have some work to do, but no question it felt better then the last few times."
"I commanded my breaking ball well. I commanded my fastball well, for the most part, on both sides of the plate. I kept it down."
The result was more impressive given the setting.
With a tough road trip entering the All-Star break -- the Cardinals went 2-4 in their last six games with several blown leads before the time off -- and an offense seemingly scuffling, a bounce-back performance from Carpenter was likely required to get the second half of the season started off on a positive note.
Given the Dodgers threw strong left-hander Clayton Kershaw out to the mound, the leading qualified pitcher in the NL for strikeouts per nine innings, it appeared Carpenter would have little room for error.
"That was really a clutch, clutch game," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "You go against Kershaw and the Dodgers, [Carpenter] was nails all night long. Really a clutch performance."
Spotted a two-run lead after the first inning, however, there was little drama as Carpenter cruised through the Dodgers order. He retired the first seven batters he faced, tossed five innings facing the minimum and gave up four baserunners against 24 outs.
Carpenter punched out six, and faced just two batters with a runner in scoring position for the game.
The only blemish of the night came in the fourth, when Carpenter caught too much of the plate with a fastball, and Dodgers three-hole hitter Andre Ethier deposited it in the right-field bleachers.
"You face those guys, Carpenter and Wainwright. The way you go about it, you don't set out to beat them, you set out to match them and we didn't do it and all of a sudden our patience disappears at the plate and we let him dictate the strike zone," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said.
"It was Carpenter tonight. We let him get a lead and he was strong tonight."
For offense, the Cardinals let Kershaw pitch himself into trouble and then made the young southpaw pay with runners on base.
The Redbirds pushed across two runs in the first inning without a single hard-hit ball. Felipe Lopez and Colby Rasmus walked to start the inning and Albert Pujols loaded the bases with a bloop single to right. Consecutive soft grounders to second base from Matt Holliday and Allen Craig plated Lopez and Rasmus to give the Cardinals a lead they would never relinquish.
Kershaw lasted just 4 1/3 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) and 11 baserunners on 88 pitches.
The Cardinals drew five walks (two intentional), scoring three of them.
"We are just trying to be aggressive in the strike zone," La Russa said. "He walked the first two guys. If he was throwing strikes we were going to try and be aggressive."
"You just stick your nose in there and compete. In the first, we had two hit balls not solid enough for double plays, but those were crucial for us taking advantage of a situation."
Michael Bleach is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.