Cards ride momentum into matchup with Crew
Division rivals split 18 games during contentious regular season
PHILADELPHIA -- Like the story was written by the baseball Gods, edited by the St. Louis Mayor and told by Joe Buck -- the fairytale 2011 season of the Cardinals will at least have one more chapter.
And it's only fitting that'd it be the division-rival Brewers who get the next crack.
"It's going to be a battle," said Chris Carpenter, who again took the team on his shoulders on Friday night. Firing unhittable fastballs at the knees and looping in vintage 12-6 curves that could only be dribbled up the infield grass, the 36-year-old held the Phillies scoreless over nine innings, again proving why manager Tony La Russa wants this guy on the mound every other day for the upcoming National League Championship Series.
"I think you can rest assured we'll try to get Chris Carpenter as often as we can," he said. "So, two days' rest, four times."
As Carpenter has gone, so have the Cardinals. With a 2.15 September ERA and two of the most important shutouts in recent team history, Carpenter's performances give La Russa every right to want his horse on the mound four times in one series.
But regardless of who takes the ball, the Cards have done as good a job neutralizing the Brewers potent offense as every team but one in the National League this season, holding them to a .242 average. Prince Fielder has hit .233 and Ryan Braun just .225.
To Carpenter, though, that's irrelevant.
"They've got two MVP candidates, never mind half the guys around Braun and Fielder," he said, going on to list the other pieces of the Milwaukee offense, even including Nyjer Morgan in the list of compliments.
Morgan, of course, had an altercation with Carpenter in early September when words were exchanged after a 10-pitch strikeout, prompting both benches to clear and Carpenter to say afterward, "I'm not going to play his game. There's a certain way to compete and a certain way not to compete. He competes hard but he does it in a different manner, which is unfortunate because it takes away from what kind of player he is. He is a really good player."
Carpenter likely won't pitch until Game 3 on Wednesday, when his turn would fall on normal rest, though La Russa did hint that his ace could go on short notice again if the team needed it.
While La Russa wouldn't line up his rotation, Jaime Garcia is the likely candidate for Game 1 on Sunday and Edwin Jackson would fall in line for Game 2 on Monday -- though NLDS Game 1 starter Kyle Lohse could be in the mix as well.
"On to Milwaukee ... here we come," Jackson said as champagne was flying on Friday. "We're going to try and keep this thing rolling."
The series between these two teams has been nearly a dead heat in 2011, when they split 18 games, though each squad one-upped the other while on its home field.
But the matchup appears nearly perfect, pitting together two rivals in the postseason for the first time in 29 years, when the Cardinals met the Brewers -- then an American League team -- in the 1982 World Series.
"They've been a battle with us no matter if they were in the playoffs or not in the playoffs," Carpenter said. "It's been like that since I've been here as a St. Louis Cardinal since 2003, when we were winning 100 games a year in '04 and '05. These guys battled us every single time we played them no matter if we were at home or on the road, and it's been like that since then and it's still going to be like that."
Cardinals closer Jason Motte, who is 2-for-2 in postseason saves, said all the altercations from earlier this season -- including a game in which Braun and Albert Pujols were plunked -- is no longer an issue. The Cardinals have won 19 of their last 26 games, and they don't want anything to get in the way.
"That kind of stuff is in the past," Motte said. "It's over and done with. We've got to go out there and we've got to win ballgames. They're going to try to win ballgames. It is what it is. We're going to go and try to get them out, and they're going to try to get us out."
On the opposite side, though, Brewers closer John Axford is expecting a little bit of extra motivation.
"With St. Louis, there's going to be a little bit more fire in both teams with everything that we went through this year," he said.
Regardless, the Cardinals are going to have to find a way to score runs. They've scored just eight over their last three games, and against the Brewers this season, they hit just .217.
"I understand we had some struggles during parts of the regular season," said outfielder Lance Berkman. "But you look at this team and my goodness, we've got as good an everyday lineup as you can run out there. We've got several starters that are capable of shutting people down, and sort of a revamped and solid bullpen. And we're playing good. That's a good combination."
Champagne was sprayed and beer was spilled all over the Cardinals side of Citizens Bank Park on Friday night, just like it was in Minute Maid Park 10 days ago. The NLCS is sure to bring even more national attention and of course, added pressure. But the 25 guys from St. Louis have kept a relaxed attitude through it all, with pesky squirrels and Tweeting tortoises aiding in the humor.
The Cardinals don't have the payroll to match the top teams in baseball, nor do to they have the season statistics to scare anyone away. But they've had a whole lot of fun over the past month, and they certainly don't want that to end.
"We're just trying to enjoy this," said outfielder Matt Holliday. "We'll have time to talk about that, think about it tomorrow. it'll be a great series. We've had great games with the Brewers all year. I'm sure it will be a great series. But we're going to enjoy this tonight and we'll think about it tomorrow."
Jason Mastrodonato is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.