Cardinals-Cubs: The Triumphant Return of Chris Carpenter

Derek CoffeltSenior Analyst IMay 21, 2009

It might have been just exactly what the St. Louis Cardinals needed to turn their season around. The return of their ace, Chris Carpenter.

With so many players on the disabled list, it was a welcome sight to see. Carpenter returned to his winning ways as he helped the Cardinals win a second straight game against the Chicago Cubs 2-1 on Wednesday night.

Carpenter didn't miss a beat as he struck out the very first batter he faced, Alfonso Soriano. He was dispatched with a 94-mph fastball, as Carpenter went on to pitch five scoreless innings, with two walks and four strikeouts.

Carpenter knew he had all of his pitches going and was in complete control.

"I was able to make some pitches when I had to when they had some runners in scoring position, but also I was out there getting ahead, and my curveball and cutter were good," said Carpenter.

I would say so. His fastball constantly hit in the mid-90's as well as his cutter hitting 90-mph.

Command, control, confidence. That is the essence of the Cardinals' ace.

Despite Cardinals nation holding their collective breath with each pitch the notoriously fragile Carpenter threw, his own manager knew he had it in him all along.

"It's not surprising," said Tony La Russa. "It's just amazing and impressive to be able to shut that club out for five innings."

Having multiple arm surgeries, nerve ailments, and oblique strains have cost Carpenter several great years on the DL. Who knows what could have been in 2006, 2007, and 2008 if not for injuries.

Several Cy Young trophies could be sitting on his mantle right now. Alas, he only has the one from 2005 but if he can continue to stay healthy he could compete for another one this year.

Staying healthy is something that Carpenter knows is a top priority.

"I'm just trying to go out and stay healthy," said Carpenter. "I know if I'm healthy that my ability has a chance to come out, and I have a chance to give my team a chance to win. Unfortunately I haven't been healthy a whole lot, and that's all that concerns me."

The Cardinals were cruising through the innings with their bullpen when Carpenter came out as Kyle McClellan pitched two scoreless frames. Jason Motte and Dennys Reyes completed out the eighth without incident.

The stage was set for closer Ryan Franklin to end the night with a win for their ace.

Apparently, he wanted a flair for the dramatic.

Two singles and a walk added up to the first Cubs run of the series before the St. Louis closer struck out Reed Johnson to end the game. The Cardinals' bullpen hasn't been charged with a loss in more than three weeks, dating back to Apr. 28 in Atlanta.

It was a nearly perfect game. All that was needed was an Albert Pujols home run; however, you can't get everything you want.

I'll take the hard-fought win.

It was a pitchers duel from the start as the Cubs own starter, Ryan Dempster, pitched seven innings by allowing only two earned runs. He made the Cardinals work for every run they produced.

Outfielder Chris Duncan knew it was going to be a battle.

"It was a pitchers' duel, two good pitchers like that," said Duncan. "Fortunately we got up ahead early and wound up winning."

Duncan, helped contribute to both Cardinals' runs. He singled through a drawn-in infield in the fourth. In the seventh, Duncan doubled, took third on a bunt and scored on Khalil Greene's pinch-hit sacrifice fly.

It was small ball, but it was all the Redbirds needed in support of their ace.

Welcome back Chris Carpenter.

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