During a heated battle of words in the summer of 2003, Cubs manager Dusty Baker advised Cardinals pitcher Matt Morris to stop talking.
"If he thinks [the fight] has been on so far, he's got a whole decade full of us coming," Baker said then. "This is just the beginning. They've been beating up on us for a long time, from my understanding, so the best thing for him to do is just leave us alone. Just play your game and be quiet."
Three years into that decade, the Cardinals are running away with their second straight NL Central title, while the Cubs continue to tread water.
Chris Carpenter led St. Louis to a 5-2 victory over the Cubs on Saturday at Wrigley Field, improving to 17-4 and snapping the Cubs' modest winning streak at two games. In his last 11 starts, Carpenter is 9-0 with a 1.07 ERA.
"Not only can he pitch, he can really pitch," Baker said. "But we had an opportunity to beat him today, just like we had an opportunity to beat him in St. Louis. But he keeps getting off the hook."
Carpenter struck out eight and walked no one in a complete game, leaving the Cubs 7½ games behind wild-card leader Houston and 18 behind the Cardinals.
"That's dominating," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "There's been some guys in both leagues that are pitching clutch, but there's nobody who's been any better than that."
Carpenter also drew a leadoff walk off reliever Scott Williamson in the seventh, paving the way for a two-run rally that iced the Cubs' comeback hopes.
"That leadoff walk to Carpenter opened up the game a little bit," Baker said. "And a couple potential double-play balls. We helped them out. They don't need any help."
Aramis Ramirez's two-run homer accounted for the only runs off Carpenter, but Ramirez also failed to convert two potential double-play ground balls to third base in the second and seventh that led to two runs. Ramirez was unavailable for comment afterward.
Jerome Williams (3-6) allowed three runs on four hits, including a two-run home run by Albert Pujols in the third, but two of his four walks scored.
With the Cubs trailing 3-2 in the seventh, Williamson walked Carpenter before David Eckstein rifled an opposite-field single to right on a first-pitch hit-and-run. John Rodriguez followed with a first-pitch RBI single on another hit-and-run, making it 4-2.
The Cardinals' ability to execute fundamentals was in contrast to the Cubs' one-dimensional offense.
"La Russa is probably really happy with his guys because they took advantage," Cubs catcher Michael Barrett said. "Not only did they get the leadoff walks, but they performed two hit-and-runs to perfection. The way you defend a hit-and-run in that case, with Eckstein hitting, is throw a fastball up. He got on top of the ball and did an excellent job of moving the runner. It just set the tone for the whole inning.
"Then they hit-and-run with runners at first and third, which is rare, but they executed and got it done. That's an aggressive play where if they hit a line drive right at somebody, we get two outs. But they gambled, and their guys executed."
Will Ohman replaced Williamson and walked Jim Edmonds before inducing Abraham Nunez to hit a chopper to third. Ramirez made the grab and tagged third for the second out, but his poor throw to first allowed Eckstein to score.
With a three-run lead and Carpenter on the mound, the victory was on ice.
"They had their chances to score some runs, but I was able to make pitches when they had the opportunities," Carpenter said. "I'm going to challenge guys. I'm not going to pitch around guys. I'm going to make them hit the ball. When you do that, you have a lot of success."
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