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November 10, 2011
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November 10, 2011

Beating The Big Boys


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IT WAS A CLINIC, REALLY, IN HOW TO PITCH IN A BANDBOX. THE Phillies, playing in their cozy, home-run-friendly ballpark, got their bats on plenty of balls; they just couldn't get leverage. Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter produced 16 ground ball outs during his masterly 1--0 Game 5 victory that sent the Cardinals to the National League Championship Series. How did Carpenter, who allowed only three hits, keep all those balls rolling—slowly, weakly—across the Citizens Bank Park infield, as if it were a putting green?

"He was just focused on keeping the ball down," catcher Yadier Molina said in the St. Louis clubhouse after the game, as champagne burst around him. "The sinker, the breaking ball, everything."

Carpenter had complete command of his fastball, which let him get ahead of hitters. "If you're aggressive and they know that if they don't swing, [it will] be 1 and 2, 0 and 2 ... they're going to start swinging," said Carpenter. "That's when you can start expanding the strike zone and getting the ball down and getting them to swing at stuff you want."

For Carpenter it was the second season-saving shutout in eight days. On the last day of the regular season he told the Cardinals' coaches they wouldn't need the bullpen. He then blanked Houston 8--0 to put St. Louis into the playoffs. When Carpenter did stumble, allowing four runs over three innings in Game 2 of the NLDS in Philadelphia, his teammates bailed him out, rallying to win 5--4. Then, down two games to one, the Cardinals came back again in Game 4, this time at Busch Stadium. They erased a 2--0 deficit to win 5--3 on the strength of David Freese's four RBIs—and perhaps with the karmic help of a squirrel that scurried across home plate in the fifth inning, briefly distracting Phillies starter Roy Oswalt.

That win set up Carpenter's Game 5 showdown with Philadelphia ace Roy Halladay. (The righthanders are good friends from their days with the Blue Jays.) In the first inning the first two batters provided the deciding run. Rafael Furcal led off with a triple to right centerfield. "Halladay left a cutter down the middle," Furcal said. "As soon as I hit it, I was looking for third." Skip Schumaker's double down the rightfield line drove Furcal home.

After that Halladay settled in. In the bottom of the fourth Carpenter got his biggest scare. With two outs and men on first and third, Raul Ibanez lifted a ball to deep rightfield. "Did I think he crushed it? No," says Carpenter. "But you don't really know in this ballpark." Carpenter begged the ball to fall short. "I couldn't tell if [rightfielder] Lance [Berkman] was trying to deke me out, or if he was actually going to make a play on it," Carpenter said. The ball died at the wall, and Berkman made the catch. Side retired.

Philadelphia wound up going quietly, as Carpenter retired nine of the last 10 batters. (The only player who reached base, Ross Gload, did so on a dropped third strike.) Now the Phillies, a team that had won 102 regular-season games and had the NL's highest payroll, were headed home. The Cardinals had a date in Milwaukee.