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Carpenter was the key architect

Cardinals’ ace showed the way

Chris Carpenter helped forge the Cardinals’ championship with his words and example. Chris Carpenter helped forge the Cardinals’ championship with his words and example. (Dilip vishwanat/Getty Images)
By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / October 30, 2011

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ST. LOUIS - He is the poster child for professionalism, not just because he won the clinching game of the World Series Friday night - hurling six strong innings on three days’ rest - but for what he did during the course of the season, taking it upon himself to be there after the Cardinals lost their No. 1 starter, Adam Wainwright, to elbow surgery before the season.

The Red Sox pitchers, as they figure out how to repair their image, could take a chapter from Mr. Carpenter. Study not only his actions but his words.

The classy native of Raymond, N.H., remained a force in the clubhouse all season - a season that ended with a 6-2 win over the Rangers Friday, clinching the 11th championship in franchise history.

When the team was going nowhere in late August, Carpenter banded the veterans together and they spoke to the team. The way he put it was: “I’ve never played with a more amazing group of guys that are in this room, but if we’re going to get where we want to go, we’ve got to start playing baseball the Cardinal way.

“Every day we’ve got to go out there and play to the best of our ability. Team baseball. Leave nothing on the field. Play the game like it’s your last game.’’

Carpenter is sincere, accountable, a leader.

“When he’s out on the mound, we feel we can win the game,’’ said teammate Lance Berkman. “He’s a real leader on and off the field and we all rely on him.’’

He did what leaders do, leading by words and example. He inspires others to perform to their maximum. He creates an atmosphere conducive to success. He speaks up when something needs to be said, and he believes the game should be played a certain way.

This is why when Cardinals manager Tony La Russa phoned pitching coach Dave Duncan Friday morning to discuss who would start Game 7, La Russa said Duncan told him, “Carpenter’s pitching.’’

“And Dunk hung up on me,’’ said the manager.

It’s not that La Russa doubted that Carpenter should start the clinching game. He wanted him to. It was just that La Russa leaves such decisions to his loyal pitching coach of many, many years. The only issue was whether Carpenter, on three days’ rest, could handle it physically.

And when Duncan assured him, La Russa was on board. And the rest is history.

When he started on three days against the Phillies in the Division Series, Carpenter couldn’t get past the third inning. So this time, he made some little adjustment. Whatever it was, it worked.

After some first-inning difficulty, allowing the Rangers their only two runs of the game, Carpenter shut down a very tough lineup over the next five innings.

“I had no idea how long I was going to go, because they didn’t tell me,’’ he said. “My stuff was really good from the beginning - even the doubles I gave up to Josh Hamilton and Michael Young weren’t on bad pitches.

“As things got going, my stuff and my command got better and better and I really felt I was in a good rhythm out there.’’

The way the Cardinals had been swinging the bats, a two-run deficit wasn’t hard to overcome - in fact, they tied it in the bottom of the first when David Freese drove in a pair of runs with a double.

Now, Carpenter is as curious as anyone as to what next season brings for the Cardinals. They expect him to be just as effective, of course. They expect to get Wainwright back in the early part of the season.

But Albert Pujols, the biggest name in baseball, is a free agent. Attempts by the Cardinals to sign him long-term have been rejected. They are appealing to him to remain a Cardinal so he will be held in the same regard as Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Ozzie Smith, etc.

Berkman signed a one-year deal with the Cardinals, who took a tremendous leap of faith that he could be an everyday right fielder. He was the National League’s Comeback Player of the Year, and in September he signed a one-year, $12 million contract to stay with the Cardinals.

One of the top trade-deadline acquisitions was Rafael Furcal, who also becomes a free agent.

“He gave us so much energy just at the right time,’’ Carpenter said. “He came out there and sparked us, not only with his performance on the field but the attitude he had, the positive nature of everything he did. He kept us loose. He was just a joy to be around.’’

Furcal basically did for the Cardinals what Orlando Cabrera did for the Red Sox in 2004.

It was a breakthrough season for All-Star catcher Yadier Molina, who added superb offense to the great defense he provides.

“I’ve been around some great catchers,’’ La Russa said. “I managed Carlton Fisk in Chicago. A Hall of Famer. He was a guy who came up with the big hit at the right time. He was a great receiver. I had Terry Steinbach in Oakland, who was a terrific all-around player.

“And Yadier, what can you say? I’ve seen him do things behind the plate that I’ve never seen before. He’s going to have a great career, and there’s no doubt that when it’s over, he’s going to be considered one of the greatest to ever play the position.’’

La Russa? He’s at the end of his contract, and he faces a decision: continue to go year-to-year or retire as a World Series champion. He had some physical issues that sapped his strength this season, but he came back strong and as usual provided strong leadership.

“He’s the reason that we’re here with a World Series championship,’’ said Freese, the World Series MVP. “He had us so prepared every day to play the opposing team.

“It’s so impressive what he does on a daily basis. I can’t imagine ever playing for a better manager. I’m so grateful that he gave me the opportunity to play for this team.’’

Freese is one of the Cardinals’ emerging stars, as is Allen Craig, a superb bench player who is forcing them to find room for him. The Cardinals embraced their young players, but they discarded the one (Colby Rasmus) they felt simply didn’t fit the culture in the clubhouse.

John Mozeliak, one of the quietest general managers in the game, had one of those perfect seasons in his own right. He obtained Furcal, effective situation lefty Marc Rzepczynski, righty reliever Octavio Dotel, and righty starter Edwin Jackson.

It was those kinds of moves that propelled the team’s journey back from being 10 1/2 games out on Aug. 25 to snatch the National League wild card with 90 wins.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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