- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 25, 2006

ST. LOUIS — This is supposed to be the age of offense, a time of tape-measure home runs, high-scoring ballgames and World Series contests that run well past midnight.

The St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers, though, are a couple of old-school clubs led by old-school managers who know the oldest rule of this sport will always hold true: Pitching wins championships.

So while the high-octane Yankees and Mets sit at home, the Cardinals and Tigers are putting on a nightly show of pitching brilliance, not all that unlike the one Mickey Lolich, Bob Gibson and Co. performed 38 years ago when these same two clubs met in the World Series.

The latest hurler to bring up visions of 1968 was Chris Carpenter, the St. Louis ace who last night blew away Detroit with eight innings of shutout ball to lead the Cardinals to a 5-0 win and a 2-1 series lead before 46,513 at Busch Stadium.

Carpenter’s gem would have made Gibson proud. The Hall-of-Fame St. Louis great had to appreciate the manner in which Carpenter went right after the opposition, regularly getting ahead in the count, allowing three singles and no walks and throwing only 82 pitches in the process.

“He showed everything he could do,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “He’s got a lot of weapons, and everything moves. The best compliment we can give him is we’ve seen him do this the last two or three years.”

In doing what he did last night, the 31-year-old right-hander authored the latest superb outing in a World Series that had already featured two similar pitching performances. Carpenter joined Cardinals rookie Anthony Reyes and Tigers veteran Kenny Rogers with eight-inning masterpieces. The three starters combined to allow two runs on nine hits over 24 total innings.

And things continue to shape up in St. Louis’ favor, because Jeff Suppan (the MVP of the NLCS who allowed one run in two outings against the Mets) starts Game 4 tonight against Jeremy Bonderman.

“When you get to the World Series, there’s good pitching on both teams,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “And that’s certainly the way it is here. These are two teams with very good pitchers, and [the Cardinals] are on a roll right now.”

Pitching took center stage on another frigid night. If nothing else, this World Series may go down as the coldest in recent memory, with last night’s game temperature (43 degrees) actually one degree cooler than it was for first pitch of Game 2 in Detroit.

And in these cases, pitchers tend to have the advantage … with or without the use of foreign substances on the palms of their hands. No such issues arose last night. If Carpenter and Tigers starter Nate Robertson were up to something, they made sure to hide it (unlike Rogers on Sunday).

Both pitchers dominated from the start, with Carpenter cruising through the first three innings on a scant 25 pitches. The Cardinals ace tends to break out his best stuff at home; he posted a 1.81 ERA at Busch Stadium this season, nearly three runs better than on the road.

Conversely, Robertson was more effective on the road this year, going 6-5 with a 3.47 ERA away from Comerica Park. That trend continued last night when the left-hander retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced and carried a no-hitter into the fourth inning.

Because of the way Leyland set up his World Series rotation, and because the Tigers clinched the AL pennant so quickly, Robertson hadn’t pitched in 13 days, leading skeptics to wonder whether he’d show any signs of rust.

Whether the long layoff contributed to Robertson’s fourth-inning struggles is debatable. Whatever the reason, the 29-year-old morphed from dominant to eminently hittable in a span of minutes. He opened the inning by loading the bases, and despite getting Ronnie Belliard to hit into a force out at the plate, couldn’t escape the jam totally unscathed.

Jim Edmonds produced the clutch hit that snapped the scoreless tie, sending a 2-2 pitch from Robertson down the right-field line for a two-run double that gave the Busch crowd reason to cheer for the first time all night. The Cardinals, though, might have wasted an opportunity to do some real damage, because after Yadier Molina was intentionally walked to load the bases, So Taguchi and Carpenter each popped out.

That’s all the offense St. Louis wound up producing against Robertson, who also got out of a two-on, two-out jam in the fifth before departing for the evening.

Unfortunately for Detroit, Carpenter wasn’t giving up anything. He allowed a third-inning single to Brandon Inge, a single to Sean Casey in the fifth, another to Casey in the eighth … and nothing else.

The tall right-hander was in a zone, hardly wasting a pitch, and the Tigers did their best to help him out by swinging at just about everything he threw up there.

Carpenter threw more than 12 pitches in an inning only once (he needed a whopping 14 to make it through the fifth) and through the seventh had thrown a total of only 69. La Russa probably could have let his ace go the distance, especially after his club tacked on a pair of insurance runs in the seventh, but he elected to bring in reliever Braden Looper after the bottom of the eighth dragged on and Carpenter got cold on the bench.

“It was a nice night,” Carpenter said. “I was ready to come back out in the ninth, but it was a long inning.”

St. Louis extended its lead thanks to an egregious error by Tigers reliever Joe Zumaya, the 21-year-old with the triple-digit fastball who very much looked like an overwhelmed rookie in his World Series debut. Zumaya walked two straight to open the seventh and then uncorked a wild throw to third on Albert Pujols’ comebacker. The ball rolled all the way to the wall, and by the time it was retrieved, two Cardinals had scored.

Down 4-0, with Carpenter dealing on the mound, the helpless Tigers could do nothing but sit back and watch the show with everyone else, wondering exactly how they are going to claw their way back into this series before it’s too late.

“When you get two or three hits in a game, you look bad,” Leyland said. “That’s just the way it is.”

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