Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Carpenter Devours Tigers This Time

ST. LOUIS - When National and American League teams get early exposure to each other, thanks to interleague play, the danger is that a little thing like the World Series could lose some of its mystery.

Or so the Detroit Tigers had hoped.

After all, the AL champions went into Game 3 of the 102d World Series not only having seen St. Louis Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter in this calendar year. They had also but having tattooed him in a June game when he yielded a season-high seven runs, on nine hits - six for extra bases.

So much for the familiarity breeding contempt, or Series edges.

Last night, a steely Carpenter stung the suddenly inconsistent Tigers attack, winning, 5-0, in front of a jubilant sold-out crowd at the new Busch Stadium.

His sharp outing - eight innings, three hits, zero runs, little sweat - and a Jim Edmonds two-run double early on, were more than enough to push the Cards up, two games to one, in the best-of-seven Series.

The National League's most storied World Series franchise had its first-ever Fall Classic victory in its new gem of a park. More important, the Cards had bounced back from a now-infamous Game 2 loss to Detroit pitcher Kenny "Was He or Wasn't He Cheating?" Rogers.

The sea of fans, heavily clad in Cardinal red and unfazed by the 43-degree weather, loved it. Because they know,They knew that another tough veteran, Jeff Suppan, cancould pull St. Louis within a victory of its 10th world championship with a Game 4 triumph tonight.

Tigers righthander Jeremy Bonderman will try to prevent that, and assureensure a Game 6 Saturday in Detroit.

Thank Carpenter for instilling that much drama into a Game 4.

"He's got a lot of weapons," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said of the former Cy Young Award winner who won 15 games in the regular season. "Everything moved. He had really good command."

La Russa's counterpart agreed - to a point.

"You've got to credit Chris Carpenter, but we've got a few guys not swinging the bat very well," the Tigers' Jim Leyland said of the team now hitting .159 in the Series games and likely facesfacing a new lineup from himthe manager by Game 4 tonight.

Carpenter credited the game plan drawn up by pitching coach Dave Duncan and catcher Yadier Molina - and, oh, yes, himself.

"I was able to execute," he said. "If you do that, you can have some good success."

The Cardinals, like the struggling Tigers, have had their share of issues on offense in this pitching-rich Series. So they were especially in need of Carpenter's being Carpenter, who was 8-4 in home starts - with a downright stingy 1.81 ERA - in 17 starts here this season.

Still, the Cardinals couldn't count on Carpenter alone. Not when they, like the Tigers, faced their own set of numbing negative numbers, primarily the 23-34 record in games against lefthanded starters this season. In the Series they stood 0-1, having meekly lost to Rogers, 3-1, in Game 2.

Last night they faced another southpaw in Nate Robertson. And he appeared primed for a duel, not allowing as much as a hit, for three innings.

Free-swinging leftfielder Preston Wilson, the one Cardinals batter who could match Robertson in confidence, ended all that.

Wilson, 5 for 5 with two home runs in his career against Robertson, lined out, hard, in his first-at bat, then singled in his second trip to open the fourth.
The Cardinals were in business moments later when Albert Pujols - hitless since homering in the third inning of Game 1 - doubled.

One out later, Edmonds, the only Cardinal with an RBI in Game 2, snaked a two-run double between first baseman Sean Casey and the bag.

"In moments like this, he doesn't get awed, he just concentrates better than ever," La Russa said of Edmonds, who has hit in four consecutive postseason games and is hitting .444 in the Series.

Detroit fell further behind late, thanks to a costly two-run throwing error to third base by reliever Joel Zumaya and a run-scoring wild pitch by another reliever, Zach Miner.

None of that mattered, though, because Carpenter had allowed nothing at all. In a Series marked by three dominating performances, St. Louis is winning the arms race.

"If you get into a World Series, you have to have good pitching," figured Leyland said, "and you have to beat it to win."

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