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ST. LOUIS — The Cardinals took Chris Carpenter at his word. Their ace did not let them down.
The 36-year-old Carpenter was his usual stingy self on short rest in Game 7 of the World Series. He put the clamps on the Texas Rangers' dangerous offense after a shaky start and led the way in a 6-2 victory that gave St. Louis its second championship in six seasons.
Manager Tony La Russa discussed the move with pitching coach Dave Duncan on Friday morning after getting a few hours of sleep following the Cardinals' dramatic Game 6 victory.
"I said 'How about the alternatives?'" La Russa said on the field after the clincher. 'He said, 'Are you kidding? It's Chris Carpenter.' And he hung up on me."
Though just an 11-game winner this year, the 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner was 10-2 in the second half. He stayed on a roll in the postseason, going 4-0 with wins in Games 1 and 7 against Texas.
A rainout on Wednesday gave Carpenter a shot to start on three days' rest for just the second time in his career in Game 7 — and the second time this postseason. He allowed two runs in six-plus innings.
"Obviously it's not my decision, it's Tony's, but I was hoping to have an opportunity to go ahead and pitch," Carpenter said. "Fortunately, it worked out."
Carpenter struggled to find the strike zone early and put the Cardinals in a quick hole, allowing consecutive RBI doubles in the first inning. The next five innings, the Rangers had just one runner in scoring position.
"I didn't know how long they were going to let me go," Carpenter said. "I was just trying to do everything I could to get one out at a time.
"Nobody said anything about it to me, so I just went out and tried to continue to make pitches," he added.
In his later innings, Carpenter threw a lot more breaking pitches.
"They've seen Carp three times in this series, they've got a pretty good idea, so we had to be creative," catcher Yadier Molina said. "That's what we did."
Carpenter left with a 5-2 lead after David Murphy's leadoff double in the seventh.
"It started off a little rough in the first but I was able to collect myself, make some pitches and our guys did an awesome job to battle back," Carpenter said. "And I mean, it's just amazing."
Duncan gave Carpenter the thumbs up after a meeting after Game 6. Carpenter won his ninth postseason game, extending his franchise record, and had a 2.84 ERA in the World Series.
"Dave had a real heart-to-heart with him to gauge just how ready he was to pitch just physically, not mentally but physically," La Russa said before the game. "And then I think if he would be available to pitch, he probably would have pitched in this game sometime.
The bottom line: the Cardinals wanted their best pitcher on the mound.
"He's the guy our club wants to have out there, and he's ready to take it," La Russa said. "Plain and simple. He's our guy."
La Russa could have chosen Kyle Lohse or Edwin Jackson, both well rested.
Carpenter started on short rest for the first time in the first round of the NL playoffs against the Phillies and lasted only three innings, allowing four runs on five hits in his shortest outing of the year.
La Russa tried it in Game 2 so Carpenter would be ready on regular rest for a potential Game 5, and Carpenter threw a three-hit shutout in the deciding game, outpitching Roy Halladay.
La Russa said Duncan's conversation with Carpenter indicated the pitcher had learned from the time, and how he would "adjust or compensate" in Game 7. La Russa said the pitcher actually began making adjustments after struggling early in his first outing on three days' rest.
"Part of what he learned from that is why he gets the ball," La Russa said. "And we expect him to be more effective."
La Russa had no expectations that Carpenter might go deep. Carpenter led the NL in innings and finished with 273 1-3 innings, the most of his career.
"Carp proved he's one of the best pitchers in the game," Molina said. "He got hit in the first inning but after that he slowed down their offense.
"Every time he takes the mound we've got a pretty good chance to win," Molina said.