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08/09/09 12:41 PM ET

Carpenter key to Cardinals' stretch run

La Russa singles out righty's health as difference-maker

PITTSBURGH -- The Cardinals are in a pennant race and have high hopes for a postseason run. One can point to many factors for St. Louis' success -- sluggers Albert Pujols and newly acquired Matt Holliday are at the top of the list.

Manager Tony La Russa points to a healthy Chris Carpenter as a main reason that the Cards are contending.

"He means that much the day he pitches," La Russa explained. "Friday in Pittsburgh was a great example -- he made five or six mistakes that are not Chris Carpenter and they nailed every one of them. After the fifth or sixth inning, he didn't make another one. If he had gotten discouraged and thought it wasn't his day, we lose that game, but he shut them out after the four runs."

"He's amazing and guys that are watching him, particularly other starters -- they watch the way he competes and they watch how he works in between starts. He's a great teammate and he's very special."

Prior to the start of this season, the Cardinals weren't sure how effective the right-hander would be after shoulder problems limited him to four starts over the past two years. He is proving to still be one of the best pitchers in baseball.

A Cy Young Award winner in 2005, Carpenter is making a run at another this season. He is 11-3 with a sparkling 2.26 ERA.

He is honored by the praise his manager has given him and the confidence he has shown.

"La Russa has always said a lot of nice things about me," Carpenter said. "It obviously is awfully nice, and high praise indeed with the quality and the talent we have in this clubhouse. I think everybody here does there part and it's just fun to be a part of it again."

His teammates also recognize what having Carpenter at the top of the rotation means.

"He can carry a team," Holliday said. "It's always very difficult to hit him, but it's fun to play behind him. Those hitters, I know what they're dealing with. It's not a fun at-bat."

George Von Benko is a contributor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.