Carpenter can reshape Series in Cards' favor
Redbirds turn to ace in Texas finale, then head home to finish
ARLINGTON -- From Chris Carpenter's perspective, it would have been nice to pitch a potential clinching World Series Game 5 at Rangers Ballpark. From his team's perspective, the alternative is not bad, either.
"If you want to choose somebody from the St. Louis Cardinals to pitch that game, it's Chris," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said moments after the Rangers won Game 4, 4-0, to even the Series. "I mean, there isn't anything about pitching on the road in a hostile environment. I think he actually likes it, pitches better."
Recent history seems to agree with that notion. With the Cardinals needing a victory on the final day of the regular season, Carpenter struck out 11 in a two-hit shutout of the Astros in Houston. With the Cardinals needing him to outduel the Phillies' Roy Halladay in Game 5 of the National League Division Series at Citzens Bank Park, Carpenter pitched a three-hitter.
- 2011 Regular Season
- Overall: 34 GS, 11-9, 3.45 ERA, 55 BB, 191 K
- Overall: 34 GS, 16-7, 2.94 ERA, 74 BB, 206 K
- Key stat: Four CGs in regular season (4th in NL); one CG in NLDS
- Key stat: Career-best 206 K were sixth-most in AL
- At Rangers Ballpark
- 2011: N/A
Career: 5 GS, 2-2, 6.99 ERA
- 2011: 18 GS, 8-3, 4.01 ERA
Career: 40 GS, 27-15, 3.97 ERA
- Against this opponent
- 2011: 1 GS, 1-0, 3.00 ERA (Game 1)
Career: 12 GS, 3-6, 6.88 ERA
- 2011: 1 GS, 0-1, 4.76 ERA (Game 1)
Career: 1 GS, 0-1, 4.76 ERA
- Loves to face.: Yorvit Torrealba, 1-for-8
Hates to face: Mike Napoli, 4-for-5
- Loves to face: Lance Berkman, 4-for-16
Hates to face: N/A
- Game breakdown
- Why he'll win: 6-0 with a 2.00 ERA in last nine starts (3-0 in postseason)
- Why he'll win: Only lost two home games all season
- Pitcher beware: Has won three straight starts just once in last two seasons
- Pitcher beware: 0-3 with a 7.17 in three postseason starts
- Bottom line: Dominating this postseason
- Bottom line: Avenge Game 1 loss
His proclivity for big games dates back to 2006, when Carpenter gave the Cardinals a critical World Series edge with eight shutout innings in Game 3. Now, the Cards will be looking for a similar edge against the Rangers in Arlington on Monday night before they head back to Busch Stadium for Game 6 -- a clinching situation one way or the other.
Much as he did in 2006, Carpenter will be looking to give the Cardinals a heavy advantage in the World Series, this time opposite Rangers lefty C.J. Wilson.
"We're psyched," third baseman David Freese said. "It's Chris Carpenter. We're excited that he's getting out there. I'm sure he wishes he could start the game right now. They've got C.J. going. Here we go again."
At the least, Carpenter will be fresh. Pitching on extra rest in World Series Game 1, the right-hander threw just 87 pitches. He nearly matched his career high in innings this season at age 36; then, after his workload increased significantly in September, he piled 23 more innings onto that total in October. Still, Carpenter insists his arm feels fine.
Following his routine between-starts bullpen throwing session, Carpenter reported no soreness in his shoulder, no crankiness in his elbow, none of the minor aches and tweaks that most aging pitchers feel on a daily basis. And given his performance on the mound, there is no reason to believe otherwise.
"He has thrown a lot," La Russa said. "The last two months of the year, his conditioning or whatever, he was stronger than he was the first four months. But we take every game based on what we see."
What La Russa saw in Game 1 was a pitcher who made few mistakes and did more than enough to win, despite an offense threatening to stick him with a no-decision. In the end, Carpenter left for a pinch-hitter, Allen Craig, who delivered the go-ahead run with a two-out single.
Had he needed to, Carpenter easily could have pitched longer.
"There [weren't] a whole lot of stressful pitches for me," he said. "It was a battle, but I was able to get through it pretty well and I feel fine. I felt great throughout the last few days."
Those days have been spent reanalyzing the Rangers and his own performance, looking for ways to improve. The biggest knock on Carpenter's Game 1 outing was Mike Napoli's two-run home run in the fifth, tying the game and adding to Napoli's personal mastery of Carpenter. In their lone career meeting prior to Game 1, Napoli finished 3-for-3 against Carpenter with a three-run homer.
"He's a great pitcher," Napoli said. "Hopefully, we'll get some good pitching and defense and scuff away a couple runs."
None of Napoli's teammates can boast similar success against Carpenter, whose history against the Rangers is limited. Logic says that such unfamiliarity works in the pitcher's favor. Carpenter tends to agree -- to a point.
"I remember what I did," Carpenter said. "I know pitches that I got guys out on. I know what pitches that guys hit. I know the reasons why they did.
"He'll have to pitch effectively," La Russa said. "But we love playing behind him because we know he's going to compete as hard as he can."
It is not a must-win game, as first baseman Albert Pujols pointed out afterward, given that the Cardinals own home-field advantage in Game 6 and, if necessary, Game 7. But it is a game that will reshape the series one way or another.
The Cardinals could not have asked for a better man to start it.
"He has everything that any ace has," Pujols said. "He has attitude, he has command and he's a big-time pitcher."