Carp's solid start exactly what Cards needed
Righty surpasses Gibson with club-record eighth playoff victory
ST. LOUIS -- Years from now, this isn't the Chris Carpenter postseason start that everyone is likely to revisit. That start is either yet to come or, most likely, already occurred 12 days ago in Philadelphia.
What Carpenter did against the Rangers in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday wasn't flashy, career-defining, or even exceptionally dominant. Rather, it was Carpenter doing what was expected of him without much fanfare.
But as the Cardinals celebrated their 3-2 win, though, there would be no such oversight.
Amid the chatter about the bullpen, Allen Craig and Yadier Molina, was incessant and unprompted praise for Carpenter, who became the first Cards pitcher to toss six innings in a postseason game since his own complete-game gem against Philadelphia earned St. Louis a spot in the National League Championship Series.
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As routine as the six-inning, two-run performance may be for the three-time All-Star, there was no understating how much the Cardinals needed Carpenter to step up. In doing so, the veteran right-hander helped stake St. Louis to a 1-0 World Series lead over Texas. Carpenter, who earned his eighth career postseason win, surpassed Hall of Famer Bob Gibson for the club record.
"He's our guy," right fielder Lance Berkman said. "When he takes the mound, we feel like we're going to win the game every time. You have confidence when he takes the mound already, then the job that he's done this postseason has built that confidence, and you certainly want to win the games that your ace pitches."
That has to be particularly true for the Cards in this best-of-seven series, as Carpenter is the only member of the club's rotation with a history of postseason success.
Carpenter limited the Rangers to five hits -- none of which came with runners in scoring position -- in his 87-pitch performance. His awareness on two especially key defensive plays proved critical, too.
Providing a briefly frightening moment to his own dugout, Carpenter dove to glove a first-inning feed from Albert Pujols, who had fielded a ground ball off Elvis Andrus' bat. Carpenter's momentum took him over the base, which he hit just before Andrus arrived.
"I think we need to work on that one next spring in [pitchers fielding practice]," Carpenter later joked. "But it was just an instinct. I was like, 'I'm going to go get it,' and it turned out to work out."
Equally as impressive as the play itself was Carpenter's quick thinking as he hit the bag. With Andrus about to lunge past, the right-hander managed to tuck his pitching arm under his body to avoid serious injury.
"I'm glad he didn't get hurt," Pujols said. "He could have gotten his right hand in there and gotten spiked. You try to throw the ball in front of the pitcher. Obviously, I threw a little too much in front of him. Give him credit. He made it."
Carpenter made another impressive hustle-and-nab at first base to end his start, this one following a sensational diving stop by Pujols with two outs in the sixth.
On the mound, Carpenter's mistakes were limited. The most costly came in the form of a 93-mph sinker that Rangers catcher Mike Napoli drove over the right-field wall. At the time, the two-run fifth-inning blast evened the game at 2.
Napoli's success against Carpenter was hardly new, either. The Rangers' backstop entered with three hits (one home run) in three lifetime at-bats against the Cards' ace.
Carpenter's success against the rest of the lineup came with a heavy dose of fastballs, his curveball noticeably missing for most of the night. After throwing the curveball 20.4 percent of the time during the regular season, Carpenter used just seven over 87 pitches (eight percent).
"[The Cardinals] made pitches when they had to, that was pretty much it," Rangers first baseman Michael Young said. "Carpenter looked sharp."
Asked if the absence of the curveball was by design, Molina, Carpenter's battery mate, smiled. He said he'd offer no specifics on how that meshed with the game plan, noting that he didn't want to give away any secrets.
"He was aggressive in the strike zone," Molina said instead. "We kept the ball down. That was the main key."
Reaffirming his insistence that some minor right elbow soreness was not going to impede his ability to be effective, Carpenter was prepared to return to the mound in the seventh. Manager Tony La Russa opted instead to insert Craig as a pinch-hitter with two on and two out in the bottom half of the sixth.
That decision proved brilliant when Craig delivered a go-ahead single.
It also meant that Carpenter would get the win, his third in four postseason appearances this month. He has now tossed at least six innings in nine of his 13 career playoff starts.
"It was a great performance," La Russa said. "They're a great hitting team. If you don't make a lot of pitches, they're going to bang you around. The thing about Carp, he was exactly what we needed."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.