A first step is taken
ST. LOUIS - The St. Louis Cardinals weren’t supposed to make the playoffs, weren’t supposed to make it to the World Series.
And they certainly aren’t supposed to win it.
However, they got off to a good start before a chilled, damp, towel-waving crowd at Busch Stadium last night, taking Game 1 of the Series, 3-2, over the favored Texas Rangers as New Hampshire native Chris Carpenter and five relievers stuffed the Rangers offense.
“When we have a chance to win these National League-style games, we need to take advantage of that,’’ said Lance Berkman, who gave the Cardinals an early lead with a two-run single in the fourth. “For us to win the Series, we have to win these close games and pitch well. We don’t want to get into ‘Gorilla ball’-type games with these guys. We need to win these NL-style games.’’
The Rangers’ Mike Napoli tied the score at 2 in the fifth when he homered to right with Adrian Beltre aboard.
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa pinch hit Allen Craig for Carpenter in the sixth, and Craig singled in the go-ahead run off Alexi Ogando.
Cardinals closer Jason Motte held the slim lead with a strong ninth against the meat of the Texas order and might have gotten a gift when Beltre appeared to have fouled a ball off his foot. It was ruled in play and Beltre was thrown out on a grounder to third for the second out.
Texas manager Ron Washington argued the call and umpires checked the ball for shoe marks but found none.
The Cardinals pulled off an upset of the Phillies in the NLDS, then beat the Brewers in the NLCS.
And in Game 1 of the Series, they were just good enough to beat Texas starter C.J. Wilson.
Carpenter gave the Cardinals six innings of two-run ball, allowing five hits. The Rangers had their chances, but with two on in the second, Napoli grounded into a double play, and with two on in the seventh, Marc Rzepczynski came on to strike out pinch hitter Craig Gentry and Esteban German.
The Cardinals also played impressive defense. In the first inning on a grounder to first, Albert Pujols led Carpenter a little too far, but the pitcher dived to take the throw and tag the base. With two outs in the sixth and a runner at third, Pujols made a nice play on a flare to first by Michael Young, feeding Carpenter at the bag.
La Russa’s decision to pinch hit Craig for Carpenter in the sixth proved crucial, as Craig came through. He hit a sinking liner on which Texas right fielder Nelson Cruz tried to make a sliding catch and wound up executing a kick save to keep the ball from getting by him. The hit drove in David Freese, who had doubled and advanced to third on a wild pitch.
“Craig has been doing that for us all year,’’ Berkman said. “He’s a guy who could be a No. 4 hitter in a lot of lineups in this league.’’
Earlier Berkman, the NL Comeback Player of the Year, continued his excellent season with a two-run single to right in the fourth, just inside the chalk.
“You just hope you’re seeing the ball well and having a good at-bat in those big spots,’’ he said.
The table had been set for the switch-hitting Berkman, batting righthanded against the lefthanded Wilson, when Pujols was hit in the lower leg with a pitch. Pujols advanced to third on Matt Holliday’s opposite-field double into the right-field corner.
Carpenter won the clinching game against the Phillies in Game 5 of the NLDS, 1-0, besting Roy Halladay, then beat the Brewers in Game 3 of the NLCS.
He received treatment on a sore right elbow after the NLCS but said he was OK. He seemed to be in rhythm until the fifth, when Beltre singled to right. After Carpenter struck out Cruz, Napoli crushed a fastball into the right-field bleachers, tying the score.
Still, “Carp gave us exactly what we needed,’’ La Russa said.
“I grew up pitching in weather like this, so it was no big deal,’’ Carpenter said. “I think it’s important to have won Game 1. I remember the confidence level we had in 2006 when we won Game 1 against Detroit knowing they were coming back with Kenny Rogers.
“I think it gives the team confidence, and while we know it’s not everything and we have a long way to go, it puts us in the right frame of mind.’’