Carpenter, Cards help Bucs clinch another losing season

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Chris Carpenter disposed of the Pittsburgh Pirates so quickly, even he stole an occasional glance at the clock.

Carpenter threw a three-hitter to beat the Pirates for the fourth time this season and the St. Louis Cardinals also got a homer from Preston Wilson in a 3-1 victory Friday night. The game lasted only 1 hour, 54 minutes, the Cardinals' shortest in more than four seasons.

"I'm just trying to go out there and attack as fast as I can," Carpenter said. "I make them put the ball in play and let my defense help me out."

The Pirates had to be up there swinging because Carpenter kept pounding the strike zone with his cutter, sinker and curveball.

"When you make quality pitches, it doesn't really matter what they're going to do," Carpenter said. "If you've got your sinker going one way and your cutter going the other way and they don't know which one's coming, it's going to be pretty tough."

Carpenter, who had problems with dehydration in his last start, had no such issues against the Pirates on a cooler night and with an extra day of rest. Then again, he wasn't out there very long.

Juan Encarnacion had two hits and an RBI for the Cardinals, who are 6-1 during a nine-game homestand to regain control of the NL Central. St. Louis has built a 5-game lead only eight games after it was in a virtual tie with the Reds.

The Cardinals fell that low in part because of a three-game sweep at Pittsburgh from Aug. 11-13.

The loss was the 82nd for the Pirates and ensured their 14th consecutive losing season, the longest stretch of futility in major
American sports. Pittsburgh swept the Cubs before coming to St. Louis and is 23-22 since the All-Star break but 53-82 overall.

"We've got this big streak looming over our heads but we do have the talent to turn it around," losing pitcher Zach Duke said. "I think we're going to get there, just apparently not this year."

Carpenter (13-6) has dominated the Pirates in all four of his starts, allowing three runs in 30 innings, and is 9-1 for his career against them with a 2.24 ERA. He struck out eight and walked none for his 23rd complete game and had such command that he threw only 26 balls to 31 hitters.

The Pirates entered the game having totaled 28 runs on 49 hits in the previous three games. Against Carpenter they scratched out a run in the third on a leadoff single by Ronny Paulino, a wild pitch and two groundouts, with Duke getting the RBI. Pittsburgh got only one runner into scoring position after that.

"He was going after you the whole game," Ronny Paulino said. "I was ready to hit, every time, every pitch."

Carpenter, the NL Cy Young winner last year with a 21-5 record, is hitting his stride in time for the stretch run. In his last four starts he's 3-0 with a 1.06 ERA, allowing only four runs on 16 hits in 34 innings, with 26 strikeouts and one walk. At home he's almost untouchable with a 1.60 ERA.

"I remember facing him, and playing behind him you see it's there every day," Cardinals shortstop Aaron Miles said. "To me, he's the best I've ever played with, the best one I've seen."

Encarnacion had an RBI single off Duke (8-13) in the first and a second run scored on a wild pitch for a 2-0 lead. Wilson hit his 13th homer leading off the third for a 3-1 lead.

Wilson has two homers in the leadoff spot, one of them coming in the first, since signing with the Cardinals on Aug. 18. He has eight RBI in 11 games with St. Louis.

Duke gave up three runs and eight hits in seven innings and has lost his last three starts. He threw a complete-game victory over the Cardinals on Aug. 11 and is 2-1 against St. Louis this year.

Freddy Sanchez was 0-for-3 and his NL-leading average fell to .345.

Game notes
Before this game, the Pirates had won the opener in five of the previous six series. ... Duke has allowed 31 runs in the first inning of his 29 starts and opponents are batting .324 against him in that inning. ... Encarnacion is 7-for-12 the last three games. ... The game was the Cardinals' shortest since a 2-1 loss to the Cubs on June 21, 2002, that lasted 1:49.