Happy Flight: Cardinals Advance to NLCS


Just nine days after tossing a complete game shutout against the Astros on the final day of the regular season to put the Cardinals into the playoffs, Chris Carpenter repeated the feat last night against the Phillies, pitching St. Louis to the National League Championship Series. And so the Cardinals’ magical run continues. This just goes to show why the postseason is all about getting hot at the right time, regardless of regular season records and accolades.

It was only fitting that this series went the distance, and it was only fitting that game five was a classic pitcher’s duel as advertised. After Rafael Furcal led off the game with a triple, Skip Schumaker drove in the only run of the game with an RBI double in the 1-0 St. Louis victory. So before the game’s first out was recorded, the scoring was finished. The only thing separating these two teams? Roy Halladay took an inning to settle in, and Chris Carpenter did not.

I almost feel bad for Roy Halladay because he did everything he could to put his team in position to win, but his offense let him down in a major way. Both the Cards and Phils were awful with runners in scoring position, going 1-7 and 0-3 respectively.

The game was certainly a nail-biter from the first inning on, featuring deep fly balls from Ibanez and Utley that might have gotten out of the ballpark on a warmer night. Skip Schumaker was replaced in the third inning by Jon Jay with an oblique injury, and Daniel Descalso came into the game for David Freese as a defensive replacement. There was never any action in the Cardinal bullpen until the ninth, and Carpenter was able to finish what he started by getting Ryan Howard to ground out for the final out of the game.

Here’s the line for both pitchers:

Halladay – 8 innings, 6 hits, 1 walk, 1 run, and 7 strikeouts (126 pitches)

Carpenter – 9 innings, 3 hits, 0 walks, 0 runs, 3 strikeouts (110 pitches)

You really can’t say enough about Chris Carpenter’s performance. He was able to get ahead of 19 of the 31 batters he faced, induce 16 ground balls, and receive a remarkable 84 game score. He was surgical out there on the mound, hitting all of his spots and working efficiently to get guys out. It was apparent (to me at least) that he had his good stuff right from the get-go. I guess that extra day of rest really does make all the difference. Of his 340 career starts, this was the first 1-0 shutout ever recorded by Carp. He became the third pitcher in postseason history to pitch his team to a 1-0 victory in a winner-take-all game, shutting out a Phillies team that had only been held scoreless seven times during the regular season.

"It was an unbelievable night. First, Roy Halladay is probably at this time the best pitcher in the game, and we come out and were able to jump on him early and get a quick run, which was huge. Secondly, I went out and was able to do the things that I wasn’t able to do in Game 2, and that was get ahead in the count, control the strike zone with my fastball and use my breaking ball when I needed to.~Chris Carpenter"

Looking back on the game, I saw four critical plays that had a hand in the ultimate outcome.

  • Skip Schumaker thrown out at third base in the first inning. After driving in the game’s first and only run, Schumaker made a terrible baserunning mistake on Albert Pujols flare to Chase Utley. Schumaker hesitated despite the fact the Pujols was yelling for him to run immediately, and he was gunned down for the first out. I thought for sure that this would come back to haunt the Cards later in the game, but thankfully I was wrong.
  • Chase Utley caught stealing second in the sixth inning. Utley was on base with one out and Pence and Howard due up, but Yadier Molina showed the world why he is considered the top defensive catcher in the game. Despite a great jump by Utley and a slow curveball thrown by Carp, Molina popped up and quickly fired a rocket right on the money at second base for the second out of the inning. Nick Punto deserves credit for applying the tag nicely, but Molina’s throw was brilliant. Can you say rally kill?
  • Ryan Howard flies out to right field on a 3-0 pitch in the seventh inning. Regardless of whether or not Howard had the green light, he gave Carpenter a gift by swinging with three balls and no strikes for the first out of the inning. Leadoff walks always lead to bad things, so this was absolutely crucial. The smile on Carp’s face said it all.
  • Rafael Furcal makes a diving stop at shortstop and throws out Carlos Ruiz at first in the eighth inning. The defense behind Carpenter was superb all night long, but this play was unbelievable. I was shocked that Furcal was even able to get to that ball up the middle and even more shocked that he was able to get to his feet and get enough on the throw. Again, this kept a runner off base late in the game.

While we celebrate and bask in cheers of “Happy Flight” for now, a worthy NLCS opponent looms in the Milwaukee Brewers. It’s hard to imagine that after everything, the National League has come down to two NL Central foes. I can only imagine how fans in Philadelphia are feeling right now.