Cardinals-Reds: St. Louis Takes Command with "Pocket Aces"

Derek CoffeltSenior Analyst IJune 5, 2009

It's the best hand you could possibly start out with in Texas Hold 'Em: two aces.

The St. Louis Cardinals certainly have their "pocket aces" running on all cylinders as Albert Pujols provided the offense and Chris Carpenter provided the starting pitching to defeat the Cincinnati Reds 3-1 on Thursday night.

Carpenter had one of the best pitching performances of his 12-year career at Busch Stadium. Going the distance and allowing only one earned run on three hits combined with zero walks, it was a thing of beauty to witness.

The only mistake Carpenter made was a ball thrown to Reds' outfielder Laynce Nix that Nix promptly took out of the yard.

He reflected on that pitch, but knew how to put it into perspective.

"That ball that I threw to Nix was the worst one I threw all night," said Carpenter. "But that's OK. A win is a win, and that's what we're looking for. We're just trying to win ballgames, and we were able to do that. It's another nice game, but it's all about winning."

Carpenter's manager, Tony La Russa, thinks the pitcher could be back to his 2005 Cy Young Award-winning year.

"He's tied for first," said La Russa. "There's never been a better pitcher. I don't think anybody pitching today is better. He's right up there with [Roy] Halladay and the best ones out there. Carp's right there."

Needing only 95 pitches to obtain the complete victory, he was efficient to say the very least.

It was Carpenter's 26th complete game and his first since way back on Sept. 21, 2006. Coincidentally, that's the last year the Cardinals' ace was healthy.

Staying healthy was something one of his teammates knew was the key.

"I've been having fun the last seven years watching him do the same thing over and over again when he's healthy," said Pujols. "This was nothing new for me."

Providing the offense behind the 6'6" starter was the Redbirds' other ace, reigning NL MVP Pujols.

Destroying an Aaron Harang pitch in the third inning, Pujols blasted a two-run homer to give Carpenter all the offense he would need.

Pujols raised his average to just a shade under .350, and combined with 17 homers and 48 RBI, it looks like he's on his way to grabbing back-to-back trophies.

The slugger also was closing in on more history, as he has now reached base at least two times in each of the past 15 games. This streak was only surpassed by perhaps the biggest St. Louis Cardinal of them all, Stan Musial, with 16 straight.

Apparently, the return of outfielders Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel have at least given Pujols pitches to hit.

It looks as if St. Louis' two aces could once again provide the Cardinals what they need to get back to the postseason and contend for yet another world title.

With this win and a Milwaukee Brewers' loss to the Florida Marlins, the Cardinals once again moved back into a tie for first place in the NL Central.

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