October 7, 2011: Carpenter outduels Halladay to send the Cardinals to the NLCS

On paper, Game 5 of the 2011 National League Division Series between the Cardinals and Phillies appeared primed for a pitching duel. The result more than lived up to expectations.

After the Phillies captured two of the first three games in the series, the Cardinals forced the decisive fifth game when David Freese drove in four runs to power the Cardinals past Roy Oswalt and the Phillies in Game 4. The win forced a decisive Game 5 pitting Chris Carpenter vs. Roy Halladay with a trip to the National League Championship Series on the line.

“It’s going to be as good as it gets,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa promised.[1]

The two starters had plenty in common. Both were former Blue Jays first-round picks, with Carpenter selected 15th overall in 1993 and Halladay selected 17th overall two years later. Both stood 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds, with 14 seasons of major-league experience to call upon. Both had won the Cy Young Award (Carpenter once, Halladay twice) and were multiple-time all-stars (Carpenter three times, Halladay eight).

Though their careers had taken different paths since the Blue Jays removed Carpenter from their 40-man roster in the wake of shoulder surgery in 2002, Carpenter and Halladay remained close, taking fishing trips together and even splitting a spring training condominium between their families.[2]

“It’s not just a matchup of two great pitchers,” La Russa said. “It’s their background together. I don’t know if it’s happened in an elimination game like this that two guys who were teammates – minor league and major league – and still maintain a friendship. This may be the first time ever.”[3]

Both pitchers already had started one game in the series. Halladay earned the win in Game 1, striking out eight batters over eight innings. The Cardinals’ only runs had come on a three-run Lance Berkman homer.

Pitching on three days’ rest, Carpenter had struggled in Game 2, allowing four earned runs on five hits and three walks in just three innings. The Cardinals’ bullpen, however, came to the rescue with six scoreless innings, allowing St. Louis to rally for a 5-4 win.

This time, Carpenter would be pitching on his regular turn in the rotation.

“Not only is Chris a good pitcher but obviously a good friend,” Halladay said on the eve of the game. “I think it’s something we’re both looking forward to. It’s going to be a challenge. Going in, you know what you’re up against. You know how good they are. You know how good Chris is.”[4]

Knowing how good Halladay was, the Cardinals made sure to strike early. Leadoff batter Rafael Furcal led off the game with a triple. Skip Schumaker followed with a 10-pitch at-bat that included six foul balls – including five with two strikes – before he doubled into right field to score Furcal and give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead.

That would prove to be enough for Carpenter as the Phillies managed just three hits. Shane Victorino hit a one-out double in the second, but Carpenter got Raul Ibanez to fly out in foul territory and Placido Polanco grounded out to end the inning.

“What you saw was a guy take control of the game when he saw the first batter walk up there, and he didn’t relinquish it at all, at any point,” said Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan.[5]

The Phillies’ lone threat came in the fourth inning when Carpenter hit Chase Utley with a pitch and Victorino hit a two-out single through the right side of the infield. Carpenter got the next batter, Ibanez, to fly out to the warning track on a 3-2 pitch.

“Everything he threw looked the same, but he used all of his pitches,” Ibanez said.[6]

Utley reached on an infield single in the sixth for the Phillies’ final hit of the season, but catcher Yadier Molina threw him out one pitch later as he attempted to steal second base.

The Cardinals offense didn’t threaten Halladay again until the top of the eighth, when Carpenter led off with a single up the middle. Furcal reached on an error, and after Jon Jay laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance the runners to second and third, Halladay issued an intentional walk to Albert Pujols. With the bases loaded and his team already trailing by a run, Halladay struck out Berkman, then got Matt Holliday to fly out to left to end the inning.

Carpenter was so sharp that he actually recorded four outs in the bottom of the eighth after he struck out pinch hitter Ross Gload but the ball skipped away from Molina, allowing Gload to reach first. Carpenter retired Jimmy Rollins on a ball that glanced off his glove and deflected to second baseman Nick Punto for the final out of the inning.

Returning to the mound once again in the ninth, Carpenter retired Utley, Hunter Pence, and Ryan Howard to send the Cardinals to the NLCS with the franchise’s first postseason shutout since 1987. Somehow making matters even worse for the Phillies, Howard collapsed to the ground with a torn Achilles tendon that would mark a turning point in his career.

Carpenter’s complete-game performance featured 110 pitches, 70 of which were strikes. He struck out three while inducing 17 ground-ball outs.

“I think he’ll remember this forever,” La Russa said, “and so will Cardinals fans.”[7]

To St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz, Carpenter’s dominant performance brought to mind the greatest pitcher in franchise history.

“Carpenter delivered the kind of epic, shutdown game reminiscent of the great Hall of Famer Bob Gibson,” Miklasz wrote. “There is no other way to put it. There is no higher compliment. And it is apt, given that Carpenter long ago emerged as the Cardinals’ best starting pitcher since Gibson retired in 1975.”[8]

With the win, Carpenter improved to 6-2 with a 2.94 ERA in the postseason.

For the Phillies, the game represented a heartbreaking defeat after 102 regular-season wins.

“They played better than we did,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “Bottom line, they played better than we did and they beat us.”[9]

In his final performance of the Phillies’ season, Halladay scattered six hits and one walk over eight innings. He struck out seven.

“Halladay was brilliant,” summed up Freese. “Carpenter was simply more brilliant.”[10]


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[1] Bernie Miklasz, “Cardinals, fans go all-in to set up a battle of aces,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 6, 2011.

[2] Joe Strauss, “Old friends meet,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 7, 2011.

[3] Joe Strauss, “Old friends meet,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 7, 2011.

[4] Joe Strauss, “Old friends meet,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 7, 2011.

[5] Bernie Miklasz, “Pitching ace channels Gibby,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 8, 2011.

[6] Matt Gelb, “The bats again come up limp in do-or-die game,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 8, 2011.

[7] Bernie Miklasz, “Pitching ace channels Gibby,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 8, 2011.

[8] Bernie Miklasz, “Pitching ace channels Gibby,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 8, 2011.

[9] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter comes through,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 8, 2011.

[10] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter comes through,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 8, 2011.

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