One ninth-inning pitch was all it took to spoil Chris Carpenter's last start, prompting his questionable removal and turning a potential shutout into a one-run St. Louis loss.
He's rarely been off the mark against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Carpenter brings a 2.33 career ERA and a 12-2 record against the Pirates into Saturday's start at Busch Stadium, where the Cardinals try for a third straight win in this series after rallying Friday.
Carpenter (8-8, 3.57 ERA) hasn't been as dominant in 2011 as he was the past two seasons, but he'd put together three consecutive strong outings heading into Monday's start against Los Angeles.
He was even better against the Dodgers, holding them scoreless on five singles through eight innings as the Cardinals (69-63) led 1-0, but he hit Juan Rivera with a pitch to begin the ninth. Tony La Russa pulled Carpenter despite the former Cy Young Award winner having thrown only 99 pitches, and St. Louis' bullpen coughed up the lead in a 2-1 loss.
"It was a tough one, no question," Carpenter said. "I felt good. My command was good. I got ahead in counts, controlled counts for the most part, made pitches when I had to, got the ball down."
He's generally felt great when he's faced the Pirates (61-70), though he's just 1-1 with a 3.43 ERA in three starts against Pittsburgh this season.
One pitch hurt him Aug. 16 at PNC Park, resulting in a three-run homer by Andrew McCutchen in the third inning. That was the only damage he surrendered over seven innings while striking out a season-high 10, but the Pirates won 5-4 in 11.
McCutchen is 5 for 10 against Carpenter this year.
Pittsburgh's All-Star center fielder had three hits Friday, including one in a three-run first inning. The Pirates carried a 4-3 lead into the eighth, but Lance Berkman's two-run homer - his 30th of the season and St. Louis' second of the game after Yadier Molina's three-run shot - lifted the Cardinals to a 5-4 victory.
St. Louis is 28-10 when it homers at least twice and 41-53 otherwise.
"You're not going to score a lot of runs in the major leagues unless you have guys who hit the ball out of the ballpark," said Berkman, who has a .455 on-base percentage in 11 games against the Pirates. "If you want to assemble a different roster, if you don't like home runs, don't watch us play."
Berkman has only had three at-bats against Brad Lincoln (0-0, 4.58), who's slated to start Saturday for Pittsburgh, but his one hit was a two-run homer while the right fielder was still with Houston last season.
Lincoln has allowed five runs - three earned - over three innings in two career relief appearances against St. Louis, but his second start of the season in Monday's doubleheader against Milwaukee went about as well as could be expected. The right-hander held the Brewers to three hits and two runs over six innings, though he left a tie game before the Pirates exploded for a 9-2 victory.
"I just wanted to give my team a chance to win and get deep into the game," Lincoln told the team's official website. "I was on a limited pitch count, and I feel like I took advantage of that and got some quick outs and some quick innings."
Allen Craig is 2 for 2 against Lincoln, including one of two homers he hit in the Cardinals' 7-2 win Aug. 17.