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Carpenter is a Card sharp

Times Staff Writer

Undersold because of the league from which they hail, dismissed because of a pitching-staff collage that appeared slapped together, the St. Louis Cardinals were again the more poised, more efficient World Series team on Tuesday night.

The Cardinals stood behind starting pitcher Chris Carpenter, pieced together a couple of rallies, watched the Detroit Tigers play themselves into trouble, and were 5-0 winners at Busch Stadium, taking a two-games-to-one lead in the best-of-seven series.

Game 4 is tonight.

On another bracingly cold evening, weather that has hounded the series, Carpenter pitched eight shutout innings. He needed only 82 pitches to get there. He gave up three singles and no other baserunners, standing in contrast to six Tigers pitchers who walked eight batters, hit another, threw away a critical double-play ball, and generally looked anxious.

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Only one Tigers baserunner reached scoring position, and none worked Carpenter as far as a three-ball count.

Like most of the Cardinals’ pitchers, Carpenter sat afterward and talked robotically of game-plan execution, pitch-by-pitch focus, and purity of competition.

“I went out and kept the ball down, kept the ball on both sides of the plate,” he said. “My breaking ball was good, my cutting ball was good, I made my changeups. Just a few pitches were left in the middle of the plate and one was hit for an out.”

Of the last point, Magglio Ordonez lined out to right field in the second inning, the first and one of the few balls the Tigers hit well.

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“You’ve got to give Chris Carpenter some credit,” said Tigers starter Nate Robertson, who gave up two runs in five innings and came out when his place in the batting order came up to lead off the sixth. “He is who he is.”

As a result, the Cardinals are gaining on their first World Series title in 24 years, while the Tigers try to reclaim the feel of their division and league championship series, games that placed them as Series favorites and championship worthy.

Carpenter and, three days before, Anthony Reyes had shutdown performances, with Jeff Suppan, their best postseason starter thus far, pitching tonight. Meanwhile, the first six Tigers batters on Tuesday were a combined 0 for 20, and regular-season stars Curtis Granderson, ALCS most valuable player Placido Polanco and Ivan Rodriguez are a combined 0 for 34 in the series.

There was no one moment, Carpenter said, when he felt pressured, when he believed he had to make a pitch, when he sensed the game was in the balance.

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“That’s the key to being able to execute and being able to execute your game plan and make pitches and go one pitch at a time,” he said in Cardinal-speak. “All that stuff around you that’s going on doesn’t get in your head, so you’re not even thinking about it.”

Trolling for offense, Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa reworked his batting order. Preston Wilson batted second. Ronnie Belliard batted fifth. So Taguchi batted eighth and played right field.

That meant no Juan Encarnacion, who spent much of the postseason as the man protecting Albert Pujols and then batted sixth and fifth in his first World Series games, and no Scott Spiezio, because there was no designated hitter in the National League ballpark. Encarnacion was batting .186 in the postseason and .000 in the World Series.

So Wilson, who wasn’t going so great either (.172 in the playoffs, .000 in the World Series), played left field, in part because he had five hits, including two home runs, in five career at-bats against Robertson.

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While the strikeout-prone Wilson seemed an unusual choice to bat second, he began the Cardinals’ two-run rally in the fourth inning with a leadoff single to left (and later walked twice). Pujols followed with a ground-rule double down the right-field line and Scott Rolen walked on four pitches that suggested Robertson wanted Belliard, not Rolen.

Belliard, batting .286 in the playoffs but with one extra-base hit, grounded into a force at the plate. That brought Jim Edmonds, the left-handed hitter against the left-handed Robertson. He fought an inside fastball past first base and down the line, scoring Pujols and Rolen.

“Pujols, that was a slider that slipped out of my hand,” Robertson said. “I made my pitch to Edmonds. He just got it down the line.”

Three innings later, and with the score still 2-0, Tigers rookie Joel Zumaya stood at the side of the mound, brought his glove to his face and screamed.

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The Cardinals had scored two more runs, all of Zumaya’s doing. Or, in this case, undoing.

Zumaya, who had finished the sixth inning without incident, began the seventh by walking David Eckstein and Wilson, just in time to face Pujols.

After two pitches out of the strike zone, Zumaya threw a strike that came back to him on one hop, a double-play ball that might have kept the Tigers in the game. But to that point, Zumaya had thrown only four strikes in the inning, and his next throw wouldn’t be accurate, either.

Brandon Inge dashed to third base as Zumaya lined up to get the lead runner. However, Zumaya threw the ball several feet behind Inge, the ball bounded into foul territory, Cardinals fans screamed hysterically and Eckstein and Wilson scored without a play. The Cardinals led, 4-0.

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Zumaya’s was the third error by a Tigers pitcher in the series, all three of which have led to at least one run.

“If I would have got out of that inning,” Zumaya said, “things could have changed.”

tim.brown@latimes.com


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