"Has to" is a relative term. Related to similar Game 1 circumstances in which Tom Glavine had to beat Jeff Weaver -- and did, 2-0, to give the Mets a jump-start in this tournament.
Originally booked to start Game 3 when the NLCS shifts to St. Louis, Carpenter was moved up to Game 2 even before a pitch had been thrown -- so the shift was not in response to the loss.
But along with the assignment comes immense pressure on Carpenter, who must square this series at a win apiece to prevent the Cardinals from going home in an 0-2 hole -- and now not finding a 15-game winner waiting there.
Instead, Jeff Suppan is scheduled to take the ball against Steve Trachsel in Game 3 on Saturday in the new Busch Stadium.
After being unable to take advantage of Weaver's splendid effort, the Cardinals have to be concerned more about their lineup than how their pitching lines up.
Glavine, Guillermo Mota and Billy Wagner brushed them aside on four singles Thursday night. No St. Louis runner advanced as far as third base.
"We hit too many balls in the air," said La Russa. "It's tough to win when you do that."
Even against a renowned ground-ball pitcher like Glavine, the Cardinals produced 15 fly-ball outs in his seven innings.
Once he washed Wednesday's rain out of his eyes, moving up Carpenter was an easy decision for La Russa. The ace righty last pitched on Sunday, in the NL Division Series clincher over San Diego, so his regular turn to throw falls on Friday -- an off-day on the original NLCS schedule.
"It's that simple: he's our best pitcher and that's his fifth day," La Russa said.
The Mets' Cliff Floyd experiment lasted one at-bat. Floyd irritated his left Achilles tendon vainly running on a foul drive in the second inning, and was replaced in left field the next half-inning by Endy Chavez.
Chavez's expected presence in Friday night's starting lineup would abet Carpenter's task. Floyd himself is only 1-for-6, but the hit was a three-run homer.
"I've come too far to shut it down now," Floyd said. "It's just an unfortunate situation. I'll come in and see the doctor [Friday], and we'll take it from there.
"If I can do it, I will do it."
As if Carpenter needed any more edges: the Mets' seven other starters will carry a collective .175 lifetime mark against him into the reunion.
Interestingly, however, Carpenter holds only one career win over the Mets, a 5-0 shutout the last time he faced them, on Sept. 8, 2005.
While they embraced the Game 1 victory as particularly important with Carpenter looming, the Mets were hardly in a conceding mood.
"If we hadn't won [Thursday], it wouldn't have meant the series was over," David Wright said. "And you can't say the series will be tied just because Chris Carpenter is pitching."
"But it did mean a lot. Maybe not as much as in a five-game series, but you always want to win the first game," said New York catcher Paul Lo Duca. "Especially with Carpenter going in Game 2 ... although we'd have to face him at some point, anyway."
Tenacious pitching continued to provide the Mets' offense with considerable slack. The most surprising aspect of their four-game postseason winning streak is that it has come without the usual ignition. After his 0-for-4 Thursday night, Jose Reyes is 2-for-16; he has scored two runs and swiped one base.
Reyes' silence can't continue if the Mets' undefeated postseason is to go on. They are heartened by a historical NLCS trend: 12 of the last 13 Game 1 winners have landed in the World Series. But they are cautioned to know that the lone exception was the 2005 Cardinals, who fell short despite a Game 1 victory over Houston and thus know that the first game need not be decisive.