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."

Baseball Labors Under Prosperity - And Peace

ST. LOUIS - By the time baseball's newly agreed upon collective-bargaining agreement expires in 2011, the sport will have enjoyed a historic 16-year run without a divisive strike or lockout.

The unprecedented era of peace was ushered in before the world's media last night on baseball's biggest stage: the World Series. It was further evidence of how the partnership between management and players has grown as impressively as the game itself in the last four years.

Gone was the acrimony that historically marked the beginning, middle and end of past negotiations. Gone were the divisive issues that led to so much mistrust and post-negotiation fallout, which usually did not dissipate before new talks were to begin.

"These negotiations were emblematic of the new spirit of cooperation and trust that now exists between the clubs and players," commissioner Bud Selig said during a news conference overflowing with players, union officials and club executives taking turns singing each other's praises.

Donald Fehr, head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, agreed. Noting that he has been representing the players for 29 years, Fehr said: "I'd been waiting for most of that time to see if we could ever get to the place where we reached an agreement prior to [a contract's] expiration. . . . I'm not sure that I believed that it could happen - until this time."

The two sides reached agreement two months before the current deal was to expire. The new deal mirrors, in many ways, its predecessor:
The revenue-sharing agreement between large-market and small-market teams remains the same.

The competitive-balance tax (commonly known as the luxury tax) remains the same: 22 percent for teams over the threshold for the first time, 30 percent for the second time, and 40 percent for the third time.

The drug-testing program - with a 50-day suspension for first-time offenders, a 100-day suspension for second-timers, and a lifetime ban for third-timers - stays the same.

One of the more notable changes involved free agency, with the elimination of various signing deadlines, including the one that prohibited teams from talking to former-players-turned-free-agents until May 1.

The minimum salary will increase from $327,000 this year to $380,000 next season.

Among the new deal's declarations: no "contraction" (elimination of teams) / during the term of the agreement. Also, the home-field advantage for the World Series will still be awarded to the league that wins the All-Star Game.

The seeds for peace were sown not in the talks that preceded this five-year deal but in 2002, when the owners let go of their demand for a hard salary cap.
In place of that demand, the owners and players compromised on a luxury tax, and a work stoppage was avoided.

Since then, with the tax in place on the big-spending teams, money has rolled in and fan interest has boomed.

"We're in the midst of baseball's golden age," said Selig. "More than 76 million fans attended our games this season, setting a record for the third consecutive year. And we produced $5.2 billion in revenue, which quadruples our revenue total 14 years ago."

Both sides still see the luxury tax as a compromise. Policies to ensure that low-revenue teams roll the largesse into their product are once again written into the deal. However, markets such as Tampa Bay and Miami remain economic worries.

"No system is ever perfect in any sport, or in most everything in life, but we have made substantial improvements in the system," Selig said. "And I believe that the small- and medium-market teams today are in far better shape than they were five years ago."

As proof, both sides pointed to a second straight World Series featuring teams from baseball's small-market-dominated Central Divisions, and to the fact that when the Detroit Tigers or St. Louis Cardinals win the 2006 Series, they will be the seventh different world champion in seven years.

All sides placed credit on the end of the war between the two sides.

"Labor peace is good for the game," said Arizona infielder Craig Counsell, one of the players-negotiators said. "Interest is at an all-time high. We feel the focus is on the field. It's good for baseball. It's good for us, as well."