Posted: Wednesday October 25, 2006 2:56AM; Updated: Wednesday October 25, 2006 7:47PM
Chris Carpenter's only hangup Tuesday night was a right thumb cramp in the seventh inning.
Jerry Lai/US PRESSWIRE
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He does bring a sinister efficiency to his assignments. Vintage Carpenter, he pounded the strike zone early in counts against Detroit, though he did so off the corners and upper and lower edges of it. Until this season Carpenter rarely, if ever, bothered with a changeup because his curveball and slider worked so well as complements to his wicked, hard sinker. But Carpenter has thrown the changeup more often, and his faith and command in four pitches has made him all the more difficult for a hitter to approach.
The aggressive Tigers, who have gone back to their hacking ways coming out of a six-day layoff after the ALCS, were putty in his hands. They put only one runner as far as second base, never managed to extend an at bat to more than five pitches, went out on four pitches in the second inning despite sending their 4-5-6 hitters to the plate and never saw a three-ball count.
"Typical Carp," Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein said. "It's a double-edged sword against him. You can go up there trying to be patient but then you find yourself 0-and-2 right away. So then you tell yourself, 'Okay, be aggressive,' and you're going to get yourself out."
There was a time when baseball and the world seemed golden and easy for him. He turned 27 in 2002, was the Opening Day pitcher for Toronto after his first 200-inning season and proud to be a father. And then he hurt his arm and was gone from the baseball landscape for nearly two lost seasons, seasons he'll never get back.
"I don't take anything for granted any more," he said.
Since then, pitching for the Cardinals and including the postseason, he is 56-19, a .747 winning percentage that should have given him more notice by now. Even his Cy Young Award last year -- he will come close to winning a second this year -- failed to put him on the short list of most people among the best pitchers in the game.
But what Carpenter did in Game 3 is a career-changing game, the kind of night on the biggest stage that verifies a pitcher's entire body of work. In the short term, though, what's most important is what Carpenter means for this World Series. As long as LaRussa doesn't get too cute and pitch his three best starters on short rest, Carpenter looms as the ultimate weapon for Game 7.
You could not find anyone better on full rest for that spot. He has sent a message to the Tigers: you'd better win the next three games.