ST. LOUIS -- He was done. Finished with baseball. Chris Carpenter, then with the Blue Jays, was ready to walk away from the game in 2003 after two grueling years of shoulder injuries. Then he had a 3 a.m. phone conversation with his wife, Alyson, that convinced him otherwise -- Carpenter would pitch again.
Three years later, here in resplendent, red-rinsed Busch Stadium, the righthander showed the country that he is, indisputably, the best pitcher in the National League. With his fierce 96 mph fastball and parabolic curve, the '05 Cy Young winner stifled the hasty, free-swinging Tigers hitters, who never saw more than five pitches in an at-bat and never saw a three-ball count against Carpenter.
"They've got good scouting reports on us," said Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson. "They know we're aggressive, and to beat us you have to come right at us with your best stuff on strike one. [Carpenter] got ahead of us with 'out' strikes -- strikes you can't do anything about."
Said Tigers first baseman Sean Casey, "He had his cutter going. He didn't fall into any patterns and kept us off balance all game. You can't do much against that. He's the best pitcher in the National League."
It had been a long, circuitous road to this moment for the New Hampshire native, who sat out the '04 World Series because of a freakish right biceps injury. Pitching with a cold-blooded efficiency, Carpenter threw 67 percent strikes and needed only 82 pitches to dismiss Detroit in eight innings.
"He's so strong between the ears that nothing fazes him," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "He has great game, he gets ready for the next one. Besides the physical talent he's got a good head, good heart, good guts."
FROM THE BENCH
Now La Russa won't chew yesterday's breakfast either: when asked about Smudgegate before the game, he said, "Enough conversation about that yesterday, so my conversation on that is going to be zero. I think it's Game 3 and we've all got work to do, so I'm not involved with it anymore, and I don't want our club to be."...
AnthonyReyes' dominant start in Game 1 has La Russa re-thinking his rotation for the rest of the series: the Cards were planning to go with their top three starters -- Jeff Weaver, Carpenter and Jeff Suppan -- on short rest, but now the St. Louis skipper is strongly considering slotting Reyes for Game 5 on Thursday -- as he should. "If he'd have had just an adequate start, I don't think there's any doubt that we were going to bring back the three guys with three days' rest," said La Russa. "And now we're keeping our options open. [Pitching coach] Dave [Duncan] talked to Anthony [Thursday]; it's not been decided. So the options are open and we'll see."...
When asked about concerns regarding Detroit starter NateRobertson's fastball after such a layoff, Tigers manager Jim Leyland revealed his dismay regarding JustinVerlander's lack of velocity in Game 1. "We could get a fastball with a little bit more velocity than normal," he said, "but maybe not as good control, or we could run into a situation like we did with Verlander, which was a shock to me. The fastball was not there, which really totally surprised me, shocked me."
Backed into a corner, dig in and push back. Those words, St. Louis' mantra during their strange and exhilarating season, are written on a board in the Cardinals clubhouse. ... "How 'bout them Cardinals!" actor Billy Bob Thornton, who grew up in Arkansas rooting for the Redbirds, said with a big smile when he spotted La Russa in the Cardinals clubhouse after the game. Thornton will also be at Game 4. ... The Cardinals got their first look at Joel Zumaya, and they aren't intimidated. "We've seen guys who throw hard before," said Preston Wilson. "He still has to make his pitches. And there's no shame in going to rightfield."...
Two wins away from an improbable world championship, and the Cardinals are as loose as ever. Said Jim Edmonds: "It's amazing, if you sit in that clubhouse, how many random things are going on and we're not really concerned with what's going on on TV or what's going on outside in the world. We just come up and try to play."
Weather will be a factor in the remaining games in St. Louis, where rain is expected on Wednesday and Thursday. Here's a daunting thought for Detroit: all St. Louis has to do is find a way to win one of the next three games, and they will likely have Carpenter on the mound for a winner-take-all seventh game. But unless the Tiger hitters find some patience, the Series might not even get that far.