for this game

Carpenter pitches Cardinals to third straight NLCS

Oct 9, 2006 - 3:20 AM ST. LOUIS (Ticker) -- With their ace dealing, the St. Louis Cardinals earned a return trip to the National League Championship Series.

Chris Carpenter shut down the San Diego Padres after a shaky first inning and the Cardinals snapped a tie with a four-run sixth en route to a 6-2 victory and a date with the New York Mets in the NLCS.

The reigning Cy Young Award winner, Carpenter (2-0) allowed two runs, three hits and three walks over seven-plus innings, improving to 3-0 with a 0.93 ERA in three postseason starts against the Padres, who fell for the second straight season to the Cardinals in the first round.

"When you're facing a team three times in a row, they've seen everything you've got, everything you can throw at them," Carpenter said. "And that's where it goes out. You have to start pitching. After the first inning, I was able to throw the ball down and away and sinking the ball down the way, both sides of the plate.

"My cutter was so-so, but I made a few good pitches with it. And my breaking ball was good. I was able to get a strike one with it."

St. Louis limped into the postseason with nine losses in their last 12 games with a very shaky pitching staff, while San Diego completed a record-setting September with 19 wins and a major league-best 2.85 ERA.

"Well, if you watched us, you know, we had periods we played very well," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "We had periods where we didn't. So I certainly didn't blame anybody that didn't think we had a real good shot.

"But you know, we had a couple important things happen. Jim Edmonds, David Eckstein (got hurt). Nothing to take away from Aaron (Miles), because Aaron played great."

It was the Cardinals' pitching that took center stage in this series, holding the Padres to six runs and 27 hits in closing out the series in four games and improving to 9-1 all-time against the NL West champs in the postseason.

In the first frame, the 31-year-old righthander looked nothing like the pitcher who had dominated the Padres in the past and posted a major league-leading 1.81 home ERA during the regular season. Needing 35 pitches to get out of the first, Carpenter walked in a run for the first time since 2001 as the Padres took a 2-0 lead.

"I came out in the first and, you know, I think I was trying to do a little too much," Carpenter said. "I wasn't attacking the strike zone, wasn't getting strike one, trying to make perfect pitches on the corners, and that's not my game."

"Any time you can get (Carpenter) up to 30-something pitches in the inning, (you) have a chance to blow that game open early," Padres left fielder Dave Roberts said. "That would have been huge for us, but we still felt good about getting two runs."

San Diego left the bases loaded and never had another scoring chance until leadoff singles in the eighth by Brian Giles and Adrian Gonzalez. In between, Carpenter retired 17 of 20 batters and threw just 67 pitches. He finished with five strikeouts.

"He definitely settled down and started making pitches when he had to," Padres manager Bruce Bochy said. "And you know, that's going to be the case when you face a guy like Carpenter. When he's on top of his game, you're probably not going to have a lot of base hits."

Carpenter may not have been available for two games in the series if not for a gutsy decision by La Russa, who bypassed Carpenter on the final day of the regular season when the Cardinals needed a win or loss by Houston to clinch a playoff berth.

The gamble paid off as the Astros lost, allowing La Russa to use his star twice in this series.

"I compare that decision to, say you're down in the ninth inning with one run," La Russa said. "The leadoff guy gets on and Albert comes up to bat. Do you bunt them or do you swing? How tough is that. You let Albert swing. You hold Chris back. It wasn't a tough call."

After Carpenter departed, Tyler Johnson struck out Josh Bard and Josh Kinney induced pinch hitter Mike Piazza to bounce into a inning-ending double play. Adam Wainwright worked around a pair of one-out hits in the ninth before closing out the Padres.

Without injured closer Jason Isringhausen, the bullpen tossed 13 1/3 scoreless innings in the series and stranded all 12 inherited runners.

"They were so impressive. They made so many good pitches," La Russa said. "I think, you know, they've all got their feet wet in the season getting here. I know it's the playoffs, but each of those guys, you know, Tyler and Josh, Randy (Flores) has had a little experience, Adam, they've been pitching for their life since spring training to try to get here. So you kind of get used to the pressure it seems."

St. Louis snapped a 2-2 tie in the sixth. Albert Pujols led off with a walk against San Diego starter Woody Williams (0-1). After a flyout, Juan Encarnacion slapped a 1-1 breaking ball into the right field corner for a triple, easily plating Pujols and chasing Williams.

"I left a curveball up to Encarnacion," Williams said. "To his credit, he could have pulled the ball and popped it up, but I guess he was looking to go the other way and he just put it in a good spot."

After Cla Meredith hit Ronnie Belliard with a pitch, Scott Spiezio grounded a single up the middle, increasing the bulge to 4-2. Spiezio started at third base for Scott Rolen, who did not play because of a shoulder injury.

"Scotty is such a tough competitor," Spiezio said. "He's been battling this thing for two months. I knew there was always a possibility I might play."

Carpenter followed with an RBI groundout before David Eckstein capped the frame with a perfectly executed squeeze.

"It was bad timing to make some pretty crucial mistakes," Meredith said. "We had been looking for the squeeze a couple batters earlier. (Eckstein) put it down at a time when me and the rest of the infield wasn't really thinking about it."

After Carpenter got Josh Barfield to ground out with the bases loaded to escape the rocky first, the Cardinals picked up their ace in the bottom half, loading the bases on a single, hit batter and walk. Belliard then stroked a two-out broken-bat single to center field, plating Preston Wilson and Jim Edmonds to forge a 2-2 tie.

"We had a two-run lead in the first inning," Williams said. "I went out there and had two outs and was unable to get the third out. Belliard hit a pitch probably eight inches off the plate and down. I think he broke his bat and looped it to center."

The 40-year-old Williams was charged with four runs and five hits in 5 1/3 frames. He had who won his last five regular-season starts but suffered his second straight playoff defeat to the Cards. In Game Three last year, the righthander was tagged for five runs in just 1 2/3 innings.

"(After the first inning), I thought Woody was very sharp," Padres manager Bruce Bochy said. "He had some easy innings and was cruising along. I thought he pitched with a lot of heart today."

Giles and Gonzalez had two hits each for the listless Padres, who finished the series 2-for-32 with runners in scoring position.

"When you don't get the big hit, it's tough to win baseball games," Giles said. "We hit some balls hard this series and I think we swung the bats better than what the stats showed. That's why this game is so frustrating. You can do everything right and really have nothing to show for it.

"It's disappointing for it to end the way it did. But I think when you look at it as a whole, this organization has never been to the postseason in back-to-back years. We played extremely good baseball down the stretch. We just fell a little short."

After playing the Houston Astros in the NLCS in each of the last two seasons, the Cardinals will take on the surging Mets, who swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in their devision showdown. The series begins Wednesday in New York.

"We've been underdogs all season," Pujols said. "They have great starters, great hitters, great everything, but so do we. Our pitching has been terrific. We're going to try and mix and see what we can do."

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