Cards' crisp defense complements Carpenter

Cards' crisp defense complements Carpenter

PHILADELPHIA -- The team that led the National League in just about every significant offensive category this season did more than just survive a crash course in run prevention on Friday against the Phillies. The Cardinals actually appeared to have mastered it.

To the team that bopped with the best of them -- leaning heavily on sluggers Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday -- the Cards looked as skilled and comfortable with turning balls in play into outs as they generally do hitting.

Sorry, Earl Weaver -- no three-run home runs here.

"Pitching and defense," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said Friday, "will still win you championships."

It certainly helped the Cardinals advance past the National League Division Series, as the combination of pitcher Chris Carpenter's first postseason shutout and the way his defense backed him helped them pull off a 1-0 victory over the Phillies in Game 5.

Carpenter allowed three hits and struck out three in a 110-pitch effort, essentially keeping his defense on its toes from start to finish. In all, Carpenter got 16 ground-ball outs in a win-or-else game in front of a sold-out crowd at Citizens Bank Park.

He never blinked, and neither did his defense.

St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, who faced criticism after two decisions that backfired in Tuesday's loss in Game 3 at Busch Stadium, came up golden (or Cardinal red at the very least) with just about every call he made before and after Friday's game.

La Russa started Skip Schumaker in center field two days after he left Game 4 with a bad hamstring cramp. Schumaker drove in the only run of the game in Game 5 before leaving with a strained right oblique.

La Russa also inserted defensive-minded Nick Punto at second base in Game 5, knowing that defense would be at a premium with Carpenter on the mound.

Everything, it seemed, worked.

"The old adage of pitching and defense wins games still holds true," Punto said. "With an ace pitcher capable of shutting those guys down, it makes it even more important."

Shortstop Rafael Furcal, who turns 34 later this month, showed he can still be a plus defender at a critical position, making several nice plays behind Carpenter, including diving for a ball up the middle hit by Carlos Ruiz in the eighth inning and then throwing Ruiz out.

"He's one of the elite shortstops in the game, maybe even the best shortstop," Punto said. "I think that showed today."

Furcal hit .227 in the series but led off three of the five games with hits. He tripled to start the game on Friday against Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay, later scoring the only run of the game on Schumaker's single, a critical hit that came before Halladay settled down and pitched like, well, Halladay typically does.

Catcher Yadier Molina showed why he's one of the top defensive catchers in the game in the sixth inning when he threw out Chase Utley, who was trying to steal second base with one out. Making that even more impressive was that Carpenter threw a curveball on the pitch.

Every big play seemingly went the Cardinals' way.

"You look at our game, there were huge plays. Furcal, Punto, Molina throwing out Chase, Jon Jay catching that ball there in the last inning," Carpenter said.

"You look at the whole game and everything that went on in that game, and it was just a tremendous job by our ballclub."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.