Carpenter nothing short of complete brilliance

ST. LOUIS -- The last time the St. Louis Cardinals played in a World Series, Chris Carpenter gave up just as many runs as he did Tuesday night.

Of course, there's a slight asterisk that goes with that note:

The last time the Cardinals played in a World Series (in 2004), Carpenter also threw just as many pitches as Tim McCarver.

That would be zero, by the way, if analogies like that confuse you.

Life isn't always fair, you see. And back in October 2004, it was about as fair to Chris Carpenter as a 12-mile traffic jam.

A strained bicep blew up his World Series dream. And it's only now we know that Chris Carpenter turned out to be one of the lucky ones. He got to live that World Series dream after all.

He lived it Tuesday night in a ballpark that didn't even exist in 2004, a ballpark full of crimson shirts and hoarse throats and 46,000 people who have never been more grateful that he and World Series had finally found each other.

History tells us there have been better games pitched in the World Series than the eight-inning three-hitter Chris Carpenter pitched Tuesday in the Cardinals' 5-0 win over the Tigers in Game 3 of the World Series. But to be honest, his teammates weren't sure how that was possible, exactly.

"The way he dominated tonight ... I definitely think it would be tough for another pitcher to top that," said David Eckstein, "unless you threw a no-hitter."

At this point in this column, we essentially have two choices. 1) We could cue up the Don Larsen video and give David Eckstein a quick Fall Classic history lesson. Or 2) we could let that historical-technicality stuff slide -- and just give Chris Carpenter his proper due.

Well, the votes are in, and since you probably didn't click on this link to hear about anything that happened during the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration, we're going to do you a favor -- and discuss the brilliance of the Cardinals' starting pitcher.

How brilliant was he?

So brilliant, he made it through eight innings on just 82 pitches. So brilliant, he faced 26 hitters and ran a three-ball count on, well, none of them. Heck, he only made it past ball one to nine of them.

Average number of pitches he threw per Tigers plate appearance: An unbelievable 3.15. That's how brilliant.

It didn't seem to matter if the Tigers went up there hacking or went up there trying to show a little patience for a change. Carpenter threw first-pitch strikes to 15 hitters -- and nine of them were looking.

And once he got ahead, those Tigers hitters could have been standing there with a bat, a jai alai cesta or a No. 2 pencil. Same difference. They were going down. The only mystery was how.

Theoretically, this was the same pitcher who had a 5.72 ERA in his two NLCS starts against the Mets. The same pitcher who needed 92 pitches to get through five innings in Game 2 of that series. The same pitcher who walked three Padres in one inning back in the Division Series.

But tell it to that team he just beat.

"He made more mistakes against the Mets, from watching on TV," said Detroit's Vance Wilson. "We hammer mistakes. There weren't many mistakes made."

In each of the first two games of this World Series, the Tigers sent six hitters to the plate in the first inning. In this game, the Tigers never even sent five hitters to the plate in any inning.

No Tiger led off an inning by reaching base. Only one Tiger (Brandon Inge, in the third) made it past first base. Just four extended an at-bat beyond four pitches. So those innings zipped along so fast, they seemed to last about as long as a hockey line shift.

"When he's on, it works like that," Eckstein said, "because the thing about it is, it's like a double-edged sword. You go out there and you try to work him, and all of a sudden, you're 0-2. But eventually, you say, 'OK, I'm going to find a way to be aggressive.' And he still finds a way to get you out."

Normally, you understand, it's not quite we-interrupt-our-regularly-scheduled-programming kind of material for a pitcher to make it through a game against the Tigers without a walk. This was, after all, the team that finished 28th in the big leagues in walks.

But the Tigers were able to frustrate those staffs of the Yankees and A's by ditching their natural tendency to let it fly at just about every pitch between the inside corner and the outskirts of Kalamazoo. Which is why they're here.

In this World Series, though, the Cardinals pitchers have been the ones dictating how these at-bats unfold. And nobody has confused the AL champs more than Chris Carpenter.

"He was locating the ball great," said Tigers leadoff man Curtis Granderson, whose 0-for-4 evening made him 0-for-13 in this Series. "A lot of late movement. I hit a changeup, and I didn't even know it was a changeup until afterwards. When a pitcher can do that -- have guys second-guessing what pitch it was they just swung at -- he's going to be effective. And he did that all night."

Carpenter was so close to joining Bob Gibson and John Tudor as the only Cardinals in the last half-century to throw a complete-game World Series shutout, that his manager, Tony La Russa, let him bat in the bottom of the eighth.

But then that half-inning lasted long enough for the wind-chill factor to drop approximately 12 more degrees. So Carpenter never did get to take a shot at those last three outs. Braden Looper slurped those up, then handed Carpenter a game ball the ace had waited two long years to place on his trophy shelf.

"I was looking forward to going out there tonight and finishing it," Carpenter said, "[but] … that's not my decision to make. My job is to go out and pitch, and they make the decisions. If they take me out, they take me out."

Because they did take him out, he spent that ninth inning doing what he did through the entire 2004 postseason -- watching from a seat he wasn't real thrilled to be sitting in. But watching three outs sure beat watching all three rounds of the postseason.

He has been honest enough to admit that he "wanted to be a part of it" two years ago, when his team charged into the World Series without him. Those are life events a guy never gets back. But when he was asked if he felt cheated by missing that experience, Carpenter shook his head firmly.

"No," he said. "I learned from missing [a season and a half with injuries] early in my career that everything happens for a reason. Why that happened to me, I don't know. But I'm enjoying this."

"There's nothing to enjoy. Yet. It's only two games to one."
-- Chris Carpenter

Almost nobody in St. Louis, on the other hand, enjoyed what went down in that 2004 World Series -- except maybe for the 14 zillion invaders who flew in from New England to watch the Red Sox finish off a sweep of a Cardinals team that won 105 games.

So it would have been easy to watch Chris Carpenter paint another masterpiece Tuesday and wonder what might have been if he'd only been able to pitch in that October.

But these Cardinals have decided there's no point in playing that what-if game, because it's a lot more fun playing these games.

"We don't really think about that," said Scott Rolen, "because anybody can play that what-if game. The Mets can play it [after losing the NLCS]. What if Pedro was healthy? What if El Duque was healthy? You can say that, but that doesn't help anybody. What if we had [Mark] Mulder? What if we had [Jason] Isringhausen? We can all play those what-ifs. I'm sure the Tigers can play some what-ifs on their side, too. It just doesn't help anybody."

Well, it doesn't help anybody as much as a well-timed three-hit shutout in the last week of another October. That's for darned sure.

So if you're into the triviality of these things, there have now been three Cardinals in World Series history who threw at least eight shutout innings against the Tigers: Gibson (1968), Dizzy Dean (1934) and Chris Carpenter. Nice group.

And if you keep track of even more relevant triviality, here's what you really need to know:

This was the 50th best-of-seven World Series that was tied at 1-game apiece after two games. In the previous 49, the winner of Game 3 won 34 of them. But the man who won Game 3 of this World Series was in no mood to celebrate. He approached this game "just like it's April 14," he claimed.

"There's nothing to enjoy," said Chris Carpenter. "Yet. It's only two games to one."

But just a few inches away, the Game 3 baseball sat in his locker, telling a different tale.

"Did you save that game ball from April 14?" we asked.

"Well," Carpenter grinned, "no."

He turned to take one more look at that baseball. And suddenly, 2004 never felt as long ago as it did on a Tuesday evening in October, when Chris Carpenter's World Series dream finally came true.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.