Cards' execution nearly perfect

Quick starts, strong pitching and defense have St. Louis on track for a World Series return.

Associated Press
Published October 10, 2005

SAN DIEGO - Chris Carpenter stood soaked with champagne in the clubhouse as he reeled off everything the Cardinals are doing right this postseason.

They took big leads in all three division series games against San Diego. Carpenter and the other starters were superb, and the bullpen sealed it each time. The defense turned enough double plays that the Padres never found an offensive groove.

St. Louis quickly moved past overmatched San Diego, advancing to the NL Championship Series for the second straight season and fourth time in six after finishing a sweep Saturday night.

"We've got a great club," Carpenter said during a brief break from dousings. "We've got to continue to play the way we've been playing in this series to continue to move on. We've got some quality guys here. We played quality games. We went out and swung the bats early."

This team has long considered itself a World Series contender, especially hungry for a shot at winning it all after being swept by the Red Sox for the championship last season.

Only two members of the Cardinals have rings, Reggie Sanders with the Diamondbacks in 2001 and David Eckstein with the Angels in 2002.

Both played key roles in Saturday's 7-4 win at Petco Park, where the Padres and their sellout crowd had little chance of slowing the Cardinals. St. Louis has carried the success from its major-league-best 100-62 regular-season record right into the next phase.

Sanders, 37 and in the postseason for the fifth time in six years, set an NLDS record with 10 RBIs. He hit a grand slam and drove in an NLDS-record six in an 8-5 Game 1 victory, then added two-run doubles in each of the next two games.

Afterward, his teammates chanted "MVP! MVP!" and "Reggie! Reggie!" through the clubhouse.

"In a short series, that's kind of what you look for," manager Tony La Russa said. "You get a hot hitter or two, a hot pitcher or two, you swing the games. He was big in each game. I don't think he had a meaningless RBI. ... One of the things we believe about our club is that we have a bunch of guys that are prime-timers. They're not afraid to take big at-bats. He's one of them."

The personable Eckstein, who stands 5 feet 7 and weighs 165 pounds, hit a two-run homer that just cleared the leftfield fence in the second, his first career postseason home run in 22 games.

Sanders' bases-loaded, two-run double came four batters later, and just like that the Cardinals had a 5-0 lead and knocked former teammate Woody Williams out of the game after 12/3 innings and 53 pitches.

"It was very important for us to go out there and set the tone early and find a way to get a win," Eckstein said. "Every game can change momentum. Especially after we had that lead, you definitely don't want to lose that lead because in that situation you could end up all of a sudden they come back, then it's a whole new ballgame tomorrow."