Carpenter stingy in return win for Cards
Chris Carpenter looked like his old self, the one with dominating form that won a Cy Young Award.
Following a pair of injury decimated seasons, Carpenter took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning in his first start this year and combined with two relievers on a one-hitter to lead the St. Louis Cardinals over the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-1 Thursday.
"It was fun to get out there and pitch, compete in a real game, and give my team a chance to win," Carpenter said. "This was the first time in a long time I felt as good as I do now."
Carpenter was 51-18 from 2004-06 but then was 0-2 in 21 1-3 innings during the past two seasons. He had not won since Game 3 of the 2006 World Series.
"When he's healthy, like he is right now, he's as good as anybody," manager Tony La Russa said. "He didn't give them anything to hit."
Carpenter (1-0) didn't allow a hit until Ramon Vazquez singled just under the glove of second baseman Skip Schumaker with two outs in the seventh. Schumaker made a poor throw to second on a potential inning-ending double play the previous at-bat, nearly pulling shortstop Khalil Greene off the bag on Brandon Moss' grounder and getting only a forceout.
Schumaker was an outfielder before the Cardinals released Adam Kennedy on Feb. 9.
Carpenter threw 92 pitches, and La Russa said he would have removed him no matter what after seven innings.
Pittsburgh had scored an unearned run in the third against Carpenter following an error by first baseman Albert Pujols. The 2005 NL Cy Young winner, Carpenter didn't pitch from April 1, 2007, until last July 30 because of an elbow injury that required reconstructive surgery and he made just four appearances totaling 15 1-3 innings last season.
Carpenter struck out seven and walked two, improving to 10-1 with a 2.06 ERA in 12 starts against Pittsburgh.
Ryan Franklin and Dennys Reyes followed with an inning each of perfect relief, with Reyes getting his third career save, his first since Sept. 27, 1999 against the Cardinals in Cincinnati. The gap of nine years, 192 days between saves was the longest since Boston's Curt Schilling got his first save in 13 years, 77 days on July 19, 2005, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Rookie Jason Motte, who won the closer's job in spring training, hasn't pitched since allowing four runs in the ninth inning of the Pirates' 6-4 win in the opener.
La Russa said he went with Reyes, a left-hander, because the Pirates had two left-handed hitters and a switch-hitter coming up. After Reyes got Nate McLouth and Ryan Doumit on groundouts, pinch hitter Craig Monroe, a right-handed hitter, flied out.
St. Louis beat Pittsburgh for only the second time in seven games and split an opening four-game series.
Yadier Molina and pinch-hitter Brian Barden had RBI singles in the seventh against Ross Ohlendorf (0-1), who allowed seven hits over six innings in his sixth major league start.
Pittsburgh went retired in order five of the first six innings, with Carpenter getting three groundouts in the first on only seven pitches. There were few difficult plays, with Moss' flyout to end the fourth the only ball to make it past the infield before the seventh.
"He was just filthy," said the Pirates' Freddy Sanchez. "He was throwing what he wanted when he wanted and you have to tip your hat. He was unreal."
Pujols made two questionable choices in the third. First, he bounced a throw to second on Ohlendorf's attempted sacrifice for an error that put runners at the corners with one out. Then, after making a nice stab on Nyjer Morgan's smash, he threw wide to the plate as Vazquez beat the tag on a play that was ruled a fielder's choice.
"That's aggressive, and he almost pulled off both of them," La Russa said.
Sanchez was 0-for-4, ending a string of three multihit games to start the season for Pittsburgh, which had 17 hits in a 7-4 victory on Wednesday. ... Ryan Ludwick singled in the seventh and has hit in a career-best 14 straight games dating to last season. ... Pujols singled in the first and has reached base in 21 straight games against the Pirates dating to 2007. ... Morgan, the Pirates' left fielder, made an outstanding running catch on Ludwick's foul fly ball in the fourth, leaping off the padded wall at the finish. ... Jack Wilson is 1-for-26 with no RBIs against Carpenter.