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Carpenter paves way for Cards in Series finale

St. Louis Cardinals' David Freese hits a two-run double during the first inning of Game 7 of baseball's World Series against the Texas Rangers Friday, Oct. 28, 2011, in St. Louis. St. Louis Cardinals' David Freese hits a two-run double during the first inning of Game 7 of baseball's World Series against the Texas Rangers Friday, Oct. 28, 2011, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Ezra Shaw, Pool)
By R.B. Fallstrom
AP Sports Writer / October 29, 2011

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ST. LOUIS—The Cardinals gave the ball to their ace. On short rest, Chris Carpenter paved the way in the World Series finale.

The 36-year-old Carpenter was his usual stingy self on short rest in Game 7. Emphasizing breaking balls after a shaky start, the right-hander shut down the Texas Rangers' dangerous in a 6-2 victory that gave St. Louis its second championship in six seasons.

Manager Tony La Russa discussed the move with pitching coach Dave Duncan on Friday morning after getting a few hours of sleep following the Cardinals' dramatic Game 6 victory.

"I said 'How about the alternatives?'" La Russa said on the field after Game 7. "`He said, 'Are you kidding? It's Chris Carpenter.' And he hung up on me."

Though just an 11-game winner this year, the 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner was 10-2 in the second half. He stayed on a roll in the postseason, going 4-0 with wins in Games 1 and 7 against Texas.

"He's always been our horse," general manager John Mozeliak said. "We knew we'd ride him."

A rainout on Wednesday gave Carpenter a shot to start on three days' rest for just the second time in his career in Game 7 -- and the second time this postseason. He allowed two runs in six-plus innings.

"Obviously it's not my decision, it's Tony's, but I was hoping to have an opportunity to go ahead and pitch," Carpenter said. "Fortunately, it worked out." Carpenter had a 2.84 ERA in the World Series. He has nine postseason victories, extending his franchise record.

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BULLPEN GO-ROUND: The Cardinals used a record 75 relief pitchers in 18 postseason games, 13 more than the Giants used in 17 games in 2002.

The Rangers also bettered the previous record with 70 relievers used, although the bullpen was not their strength in the World Series. Manager Ron Washington doesn't know why.

"I wish they would have continued to be dominant," Washington said. "I wish I did have the answer. I don't. You know, those are the guys that got us here, and those guys were in position to take us further, and it didn't get done.

"And that's it."

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MAC ATTACK: Mark McGwire won a World Series ring with the "Bash Brothers" in Oakland. Now, he has one as a batting coach.

"It's really cool," he said.

Big Mac has been the man behind the scenes the last two seasons for St. Louis' hard-hitting lineup. The feeling of being with a winner? "Phenomenal," he said.

"You dream about it as a kid," McGwire explained. "I never dreamed about it being a coach, but it's even more special because I really understand what this game's all about."

McGwire was a 25-year-old slugger with the Athletics in 1989, when he had 35 homers and 95 RBIs to help them win the World Series title. He was reunited with manager Tony La Russa in St. Louis after spending several years away from the game.

The Cardinals hired McGwire as their hitting coach after the 2009 season, and the following January he admitted using steroids when he was a player.

After the Cardinals beat Texas 6-2 in Game 7 on Friday night, he couldn't stop talking about the team's improbable run to a championship.

"I don't think you can write a script like this," McGwire said. "It's never been done before. To come from 10 1/2 games back the last week of August and win the World Series is incredible."

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BIG BAT OFF THE BENCH: The injury to slugger Matt Holliday that kept him out of Game 7 was but a minor concern for the Cardinals.

They had the perfect replacement.

Allen Craig had a better September than Holliday -- and a better October, too. Stepping in after Holliday was taken off the World Series roster with a bruised right wrist, the 27-year-old Craig had the go-ahead hit Friday night with his fourth homer of the postseason and saved a run with a leaping catch at the left field wall that robbed Nelson Cruz of a homer.

St. Louis took the title with a 6-2 victory over Texas in Game 7.

"Home run was nice. Catch was better. I've never done that before," Craig said.

In Game 6, Craig stepped in after Holliday was hurt diving back to third while getting picked off and homered in the eighth to fuel the first of two comebacks in the Cardinals' wild 10-9, 11-inning victory.

Craig was one of the team's most productive hitters in the World Series, with three homers and five RBIs.

"I wish everybody in the country could get to know these guys," he said. "It's unbelievable. I'm just glad to be a part of it."

Craig made only 47 starts during an injury-plagued regular season but was productive whenever he got the chance, batting .315 and elevating his game with a .327 average over the final month.

Holliday, hindered by injuries down the stretch, batted .254 in September. He was 3 for 19 (.158) in the World Series with no RBIs.

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BERKMAN'S BIG SERIES: Lance Berkman was supposedly on the decline, his best years behind him, his big chance to win a championship with the New York Yankees spoiled and spent.

The St. Louis Cardinals disagreed.

Signed to an $8 million, one-year deal in the offseason, Berkman repaid the Cardinals for their faith during a scintillating postseason run. They capped it off Friday night, beating Texas 6-2 in Game 7 for their 11th World Series championship.

"It's hard to put it into words," Berkman said. "It's exhilarating. The fans make it more exciting. This is the greatest team I've ever played on."

The 35-year-old Berkman batted .423 with a homer and five RBIs during the Series, including a tying single in the 10th inning of Game 6 that kept St. Louis alive. David Freese ended up winning it with his homer leading off the 11th, sending the wild, back-and-forth Series to one more game.

In his typical, affable nature, Berkman brushed off the critical hit.

"If you don't come through right there, it's only one at-bat and it's over with. They might talk about it for a couple of days," he reasoned. "If you come through, it's the greatest."

"Plus, you've built an account of coming through," Berkman added. "So, if I don't come through in Game 7, I can be like, 'Well, I came through in Game 6!'"

His entire team came through in Game 7.

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ALL IN: The Rangers' potent lineup was intact for Game 7 of the World Series. It just didn't do much.

Nelson Cruz was in right field and Mike Napoli was behind the plate against the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday night. Both were banged up in Game 6, and together they were 1 for 8 with a single.

Cruz strained his right groin after flying out in the 11th inning of Game 6. Napoli was banged up earlier in Game 6 when he slid awkwardly into second base, catching his left foot in the dirt and tumbling over the bag.

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CODE BLUE: Rangers closer Neftali Feliz was available for Game 7 despite blowing the save in the ninth inning the previous night, costing Texas a chance to wrap up the series. He did not pitch.

Feliz struck out Ryan Theriot to start the ninth in Game 6, but Albert Pujols doubled to left and Lance Berkman drew a walk. Feliz rebounded to strike out Allen Craig, and David Freese was down to his final strike, before he hit a tying, two-run triple to right field.

Manager Ron Washington said he wasn't concerned with Feliz's psyche Friday night.

"He's very stable. We certainly didn't have to put a respirator on him. We didn't have to shock his heart back," Washington said. "In this game, there will be days when you don't have good days, and I think if you talk to Neftali last night, he didn't feel like it was a good day."

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NERVOUS NELLIES: Cardinals manager Tony La Russa acknowledged that he was nervous before Game 7 of the World Series. After all, it's only natural.

"Whoever is not nervous should not participate," La Russa said, "because it means you don't care. Nervous is good. Nervous means you care and you're ready, and you learn how to control your nerves.

"I tried to explain this because it's how I feel," he said. "Every time you get into one of these things, you enjoy it more because of your past experience. It never disappoints. So here is like, the final piece, you participate in a Game 7, and that's as good as it gets."

So, does Ron Washington get nervous, too?

"Well, if Tony is nervous," the Texas manager said, "how can Ron Washington not be nervous?"

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TORNADO RELIEF: Major League Baseball dedicated Game 7 to tornado relief efforts in the Southeast and Midwest, including Joplin, Mo., where an EF5 tornado wiped out a large swath of town.

Children from the Joplin South Little League were recognized prior to the first pitch between Texas and St. Louis. MLB encouraged fans to visit MLBCommunity.org, where they can contribute to the Heart to Heart Organization and Habitat for Humanity.

"We are a social institution, and it's not that we should be doing these things, we're privileged to be doing them," MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said.

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TAKE THE MIC: Chris Daughtry, the four-time Grammy Award nominee, was scheduled to perform the national anthem before the deciding game of the World Series on Friday night.

Daughtry is the second alum of the Fox television show "American Idol" to sing the anthem -- Scotty McCreery performed it before Game 1. The World Series is televised by Fox.

Country music artist David Nail was to sing "God Bless America." The Missouri native headlined a disaster relief concert in May following the tornados that ravaged much of the Midwest.

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RAMS CELEBRATING: The St. Louis Rams are offering $23 tickets to fans who come to the Edward Jones Dome box office before their game against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

The tickets honor the jersey number of Cardinals third baseman David Freese, who hit the winning homer in the 11th inning Thursday night to force Game 7.

The Rams are 30th in the NFL with average home attendance of 56,374 this season. That's 86.3 percent of capacity, which ranks 28th among the 32 franchises.

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AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta contributed to this report.

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