Performer of the Game: Cardinals' Carpenter
Starting on three days' rest, righty limits Rangers to two runs
ST. LOUIS -- Chris Carpenter clutched his daughter in both arms, a streak of red dye in her hair and a No. 29 painted on her cheek. This marked Carpenter's second career World Series victory, but he gazed around Busch Stadium as if seeing this type of celebration for the first time.
"Guys play this [game] for one thing, most of them, and it's for a world championship," he said. "You think about that when you're a kid."
Carpenter thinks about it now also, as an adult, knowing how significant a role he played in this title. If not for Carpenter's two-hitter against the Astros on the final day of the regular season, the Cardinals might not have made the playoffs. If not for his three-hitter to beat Roy Halladay and the Phillies in Game 5 of the National League Division Series, they might not have advanced.
If not for Carpenter's strong efforts in Games 1 and 5 of the World Series against the Rangers, the Cardinals might not have ever advanced to Game 7 on Friday night. And if not for his standout performance in Game 7, on short rest, the Cardinals might not be celebrating deep into the morning.
"It's not surprising at all," teammate Adam Wainwright said. "Chris Carpenter's the ultimate competitor. He's what we aspire to be as pitchers. He's the guy you want on the mound in big games every time."
In holding the Rangers to two runs over six-plus innings in Game 7, Carpenter became the first pitcher in Major League history to win two do-or-die games in the same postseason, doing so in the first and third rounds against the Phillies and Rangers. He also won his franchise-record ninth postseason game, improving to 3-0 with a 2.00 ERA in four career World Series starts.
And he became the first pitcher to start Games 5 and 7 of the World Series since Boston's Bruce Hurst in 1986, cementing his status as one of baseball's all-time postseason performers.
"His competitiveness, his ferocity out there is probably unmatched," Wainwright said. "He's very impressive, obviously."
Perhaps most impressive was the fact that, due in large part to his lengthy injury history, Friday's clincher marked just the second time Carpenter had ever started a game -- regular season or postseason -- on short rest. The first example came earlier this month in the NLDS, when the Phillies tagged him for four runs in three innings of an eventual Cardinals win.
Yet that did not stop St. Louis manager Tony La Russa from turning to Carpenter on short rest in Game 7 of the World Series, after Wednesday's rainout made that strategy feasible. Citing all the same character traits his teammates lauded him for after the game -- competitiveness, maturity, ability, etc. -- La Russa asked his best pitcher to win the most significant game of his career in front of a record Busch Stadium crowd.
It was a gamble. Coming into this World Series, pitchers starting postseason games on short rest had compiled a 4.46 ERA since the start of the last decade. Not good.
But as Wainwright noted afterward, "it worked out perfect." Short rest proved to be no issue, as Carpenter threw 91 pitches -- most of them effective -- recovering from a poor start once he began relying more heavily on his signature curveball.
"Physically, you just feel a little different and it's not normal," Carpenter said. "I was a little excited and I needed to control the adrenaline, needed to control the emotion in the early part of the game. I know the command I had early on wasn't as good as I would have liked, but I was able to collect myself and make pitches when I had to."
"We caught him a little bit by surprise there in the first inning," said Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, who teamed with Michael Young to hit back-to-back RBI doubles off of Carpenter. "But he did settle down."
Roughly four hours after escaping from that first-inning jam, Carpenter stood in Busch Stadium's home clubhouse wearing a champagne-soaked shirt, a hologram sticker still attached near the collar. Healthy now for the longest continuous stretch of his 14-year career, Carpenter spoke of beginning his offseason conditioning program come Nov. 1.
Even he smirked at the thought of that, so soon after a World Series title. If anyone deserves rest, it is Carpenter, who has received so little of it throughout the past two months.
If anyone deserves credit, it is Carpenter, as well.
"We'll see what happens," he said, his shirt still stained dark with beer and champagne. "But I'm going to enjoy the moment tonight."