|ESPN.com: MLB Playoffs 2006||[Print without images]|
For starters, St. Louis manager Tony La Russa had to pitch rookie Anthony Reyes and Jeff Weaver in the first two World Series games in Detroit and wouldn't be able to call on his two best pitchers, Chris Carpenter and Jeff Suppan, until the action shifted to Busch Stadium this week.
|Carpenter had a 1.81 ERA at Busch Stadium this season -- the best home ERA of any starter in the major leagues.|
"Carp" and "Soup," as they're referred to in the St. Louis clubhouse, sound like a combination you might find on the brunch menu at a New York delicatessen. But they inspire lots of confidence among their teammates, for obvious reasons.
Carpenter, the 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner, will pitch Game 3 of the World Series against Detroit's Nate Robertson on Tuesday night, and Suppan, the NLCS Most Valuable Player, will start Game 4 against Jeremy Bonderman on Wednesday.
If you weren't convinced this matchup would be a walkover from those lopsided ESPN SportsNation poll results, you might think the Cardinals actually have a chance.
"I guess it would have felt better to lose the first one, win the second one and come home with everybody throwing around that 'momentum' word," Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen said. "But we have Carp on the mound and Soup lined up, and we're 1-1 in a World Series with three to play at home. There's a chance that we can take care of all our business right here in St. Louis and put rings on our fingers. That's the ultimate goal."
After losing 3-1 to Kenny Rogers at Comerica Park, the Cardinals returned home Monday and held a midafternoon workout on familiar turf. They stretched, took optional batting practice, then retired to the clubhouse and devised all sorts of innovative ways to say "no comment."
Although La Russa held court at length on the lingering controversy over Rogers and the mysterious pine tar-dirt clump on his hand, it was a topic most St. Louis players clearly felt uncomfortable addressing. So they demurred, en masse.
"I'm going to leave that alone," Rolen said. "That's a subject I didn't touch last night, and I'm not going to touch it again."
"I was on the bench watching the game," second baseman Ronnie Belliard said. "I didn't see anything. I didn't even watch ESPN when they were showing it. I was sleeping at that time."
Truth be told, the Cardinals have bigger concerns. Robertson, Detroit's Game 3 starter, led the Tigers with 20 quality starts this season and has a knack for making hitters beat the ball into the ground. Perhaps the best example of his bulldog demeanor came in September, when he took a line drive in the ribs against Minnesota and stayed in the game to throw four more shutout innings.
Robertson is also a lefty, and that could present a problem for St. Louis no matter how clean or dirty his hands are.
In 2004, when the Cardinals lost to Boston in the World Series, they ranked second in the National League with an .810 OPS against lefty pitching. Albert Pujols received plenty of support that season from the likes of Rolen, Reggie Sanders and Edgar Renteria.
This year, the Cardinals ranked 15th in the NL with a .731 OPS against left-handed pitching. Jim Edmonds is two years older and awfully banged-up, Rolen tailed off badly in the second half, and Preston Wilson and Juan Encarnacion, St. Louis' corner outfielders, are undisciplined hitters who can be easy marks against crafty, finesse types.
Robertson, whose fastball tops out in the low 90s, is a different breed of lefty from Tom Glavine or even Rogers. "He throws a littler harder and challenges in and away a little more, and he's not sinking the ball and throwing changeups and doing a lot of that," Rolen said.
The Cardinals hope and expect to derive an edge from a return to Busch Stadium, where they posted a 49-31 record this season. Busch is only the sixth park in major league history to host a World Series in its first year of operation. The others: Forbes Field, the Polo Grounds, Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium and Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati.
But it's more a question of who'll be standing on the mound than where the mound is located. Although Carpenter has dealt with speculation that in recent weeks he's fatigued, he's 2-1 with a 3.70 ERA in four postseason starts against San Diego and the Mets.
"He's what all the young guys want to be in pitching,'' St. Louis closer Adam Wainwright said. "Every day, no matter who he's pitching against or what the situation is, he has the same attitude. He goes about it like it's the seventh game of the World Series every day.''
For what it's worth, the St. Louis rotation is arranged so Carpenter would be in line to pitch a Game 7 in Detroit. But first things first: He's taking it one Armageddon at a time.
Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN Insider. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.