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CARDINALS 5, ASTROS 3

Carpenter, Cardinals hammer out victory

ST. LOUIS -- His cute little boy Sam was tugging at his hand shouting, ''Daddy, Daddy!" as Chris Carpenter left the interview room at Busch Stadium last night not long after the Cardinals righthander led St. Louis over Houston, 5-3, in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.

His family, including his wife Alyson and a bunch of family members from Bedford, N.H., watched as Carpenter continued his incredible season with eight lights-out innings, in which he allowed only a two-run homer to Astros pinch hitter Chris Burke.

They were all smiles. And why not? Carpenter even had a couple of nifty bunts to his credit, including a perfectly executed suicide squeeze in the second inning.

''I wasn't always a good bunter," Carpenter said. ''I had to work at it."

It seems he's worked at just about everything the last couple of years. A year ago at this time he was merely a spectator on the Cardinals' bench recovering from shoulder problems as he watched St. Louis beat the Astros in the NLCS and then get swept by his beloved Red Sox in the World Series.

But this year, Carpenter was able to do more than watch. This year, he was magnificent, inducing 17 ground balls, including one critical double-play grounder by Lance Berkman in the third inning when the Astros had loaded the bases with one out.

Carpenter, 30, had to cut short his start in Game 1 of the Division Series against San Diego after six scoreless innings because of cramping caused by dehydration. But he said he felt fine last night. This time, his 96 pitches left the Astros feeling ill.

''My sinker and my cutter were really good for me tonight," he said. ''I can control my game down in the strike zone with them. It's tough to elevate when you hit a lot of ground balls."

Carpenter outpitched Astros starter Andy Pettitte, who lasted six innings and allowed all five Cardinal runs. It was revealed after the game that Pettitte had been struck in the right knee with a Roy Oswalt line drive during batting practice.

According to Astros manager Phil Garner, the knee swelled during the game and limited Pettitte's performance.

Carpenter received help from Reggie Sanders, who belted a two-run homer in the first and made a nice leaping catch to rob Mike Lamb of extra bases at the fence for the last out of the sixth. Third baseman Abraham Nunez also made a nice play in the field, cutting down Morgan Ensberg at the plate in the fourth.

Sanders continued his red-hot ways, scorching a two-run homer deep to left-center with two outs and David Eckstein (single) aboard.

The Cardinals scored again in the second, this time playing small ball as Carpenter laid down a perfect bunt to score Mark Grudzielanek.

Carpenter put down a perfect sacrifice bunt in the fifth, advancing Nunez, who had led off with a single. Eckstein followed with an RBI single to right, making it 4-0. Albert Pujols stroked a single to right, scoring Eckstein with the fifth run.

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