Carpenter in position to close out NLCS

Carpenter in position to close out NLCS

ST. LOUIS -- One win away from a trip to the World Series, the Cardinals will hand the ball to staff ace Chris Carpenter on Wednesday night when they attempt to close out the National League Championship Series against the Mets at Shea Stadium.

The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner will start Game 6 of the NLCS with the Cardinals holding a 3-2 advantage in the best-of-seven series. Rookie John Maine will take the ball for the Mets in a rematch of a wild Game 2 contest that saw neither starter work past five innings.

In that outing, Carpenter (15-8 during the regular season) allowed five runs, marking just the second time all year he worked fewer than six innings and allowed more than four runs.

"I was throwing balls in the middle of the plate and [if you] don't throw strike one and don't get ahead of hitters, then you are not going to be successful," Carpenter said.

That start also marks the worst postseason outing of his career. Entering Game 2, Carpenter had been brilliant in October, registering a 4-0 record and 2.10 career ERA, including fashioning six innings of one-run ball in Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Padres.

Five days later, the ERA was 2.97, but, thanks to some late runs off the Mets' bullpen and a 9-6 St. Louis victory, his perfect record stayed intact. Over the past two postseasons, the Cardinals are 6-0 when Carpenter starts.

In order to fashion another victory, the right-hander will need to rediscover his curveball. Against the Padres, the pitch was terrific, coaxing several key outs. He didn't exhibit the same control facing the Mets.

"I was pulling off the ball the other night," Carpenter said. "I was trying as hard as I could to figure out a way to get myself to fix it. And unfortunately, it was one of those games, and I had a few this year when everything wasn't working for me."

Instead of finishing facing forward, Carpenter was "slinging," finishing to the side after delivering a pitch. This forced poor command, yielding two homers and a season-high four walks.

complete coverage
Home  |  News  |  Video  |  Audio  |  Photos

"You try to get locked back in, keep your head still and getting [your focus] on the mitt and getting [your focus] on the catcher," Carpenter said. "When it doesn't happen, you try to make adjustments pitch to pitch and hitter to hitter, and I was trying to do that all night long and I wasn't able to do it."

Carpenter must also contain the Carloses -- Beltran and Delgado.

"You know, you're getting first and second and bases loaded and you get those guys in those situations where you can't be as careful," Carpenter said. "You've got to be aggressive and make pitches, and all of a sudden you leave one over the middle of the plate and they do damage."

Both have destroyed Cardinals pitching this postseason. Beltran, a Redbirds killer from the 2004 National League Championship Series for the Astros, has belted three homers, including one that won Game 1 of the 2006 NLCS.

Delgado, playing in his first postseason, is even better, blasting three opposite-field shots, including two off Carpenter in Game 2. On each pitch, Carpenter missed his location. The first homer was an inside fastball that came out over the middle of the plate, while the second was another offering over the heart of the plate.

"He's a phenomenal hitter and you have to go out and make pitches," Carpenter said.

For the first time in nearly a month, the right-hander threw a side session between starts to correct a flaw. Durability-wise, it showed the ace isn't suffering from any pain in his arm. During the past two seasons, Carpenter has worked over 500 innings including the postseason, and possibly showed signs of tiring down the stretch. He was pushed past 100 pitches in his last nine regular-season starts, but said he is not feeling discomfort or fatigue.

"I felt good," Carpenter said. "I just struggled with command in [Game 2], which is the biggest key."

If that command improves, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa offered a prediction.

"If he goes out there Wednesday and is his normal self as far as command of his four pitches, they will see the greatest of the great," La Russa said.

Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.