ST. LOUIS — On the day he pitches, Chris Carpenter can be an ornery cuss. He prowls the mound, barks at hitters, and on at least one occasion has been known to invite a basepath collision.
Though just an 11-game winner for the St. Louis Cardinals, the 36-year-old right-hander has been in dominating mode since midseason. Apparently in the Milwaukee Brewers’ heads, too, heading into a matchup of aces in Game 3 of the NL championship series on Wednesday night against 17-game winner Yovani Gallardo.
“Yo has been our best guy, he loves being in these situations,” Brewers leadoff man Corey Hart said. “It’s our guy against their guy. Both are best guys.”
Carpenter mixed it up with volatile Nyjer Morgan in September and was labeled a “phony” by Brewers pitcher Zack Greinke prior to the series.
Nothing phony about the results.
Carpenter shut down Milwaukee twice in September, allowing only two runs in 17 innings to fuel an improbable drive for the NL wild-card berth. He’s coming off a career signature moment, a three-hit shutout against Roy Halladay that eliminated the favored Phillies in the NL division series.
Carpenter has been clutch throughout his career in the postseason, too, going 6-2 with a 2.94 ERA. He pushed aside his friendship with Halladay for a 1-0 win in Game 5 of the NL division series, and will do his best to not allow Brewers animosity to affect him.
So, sorry, no feud. Just getting ready for a big start.
You can probably forget about the rally squirrel, too. The Cardinals are capitalizing on the craze, giving 40,000 rally towels featuring a squirrel, but by Tuesday afternoon team officials had caught four of the critters.
“Are we still talking about that?” St. Louis utilityman Allen Craig said. “People are laughing at us. We’re talking about squirrels.”
Carpenter dismisses Greinke’s assessment, too.
“He doesn’t know me, he’s never been a teammate of mine, he can say what he wants,” Carpenter said.
“Every year, and every round of the playoffs, there’s distractions all around,” he said. “It can go from family stuff, clubhouse stuff, opponents, friendships, whatever it is. If you can’t eliminate that on your day, you’re going to have extra trouble.”
The Brewers were on their best behavior Tuesday, skirting the issue of bad blood.
Making a reference to Greinke’s battle with social anxiety disorder, manager Ron Roenicke said the pitcher’s comments were “no big deal” and told reporters, “You guys know Zack, and you know what he’s going to say when you ask questions.”
Morgan, who flung a wad of chewing tobacco at Carpenter in a shouting match in early September and ridiculed the Cardinals on Twitter, had nothing to say. He politely declined interview requests before and after the Brewers’ workout, saying only “Nope.”
“There’s so much at stake, I don’t think either team wants to get caught up in the drama,” Milwaukee star Ryan Braun said. “It makes a good story, it’s good for you guys.
“Both teams are three games away from the World Series, that’s what they’re going to focus on.”
Gallardo needs to ignore a different sort of clutter — his utter lack of success against the Cardinals.
The 25-year-old right-hander has been the Brewers’ only consistent starter in the postseason, with an impressive 0.86 ERA in 21 innings, and is coming off a strong finishing stretch. He just can’t beat the Cardinals, saddled with a 1-7 career record and 5.66 ERA after losing to them in consecutive starts in early September.
“Well, I can’t explain it,” Gallardo said. “I’m 1-7 against these guys but I try to forget about those things. I mean, even if goes the other way around, 7-1.”
Dueling Carpenter is plenty for him now.
“We all know what kind of pitcher he is. He has great stuff and obviously he’s had great success,” Gallardo said. “It should be a pretty exciting game.
“I’m definitely going to have to bring my ‘A’ game.”
But lest anyone think the Cardinals own Gallardo, there’s this nugget: In his lone victory in May in St. Louis, he took a no-hit bid into the eighth.
The Cardinals knocked out Shaun Marcum in the fifth inning of a 12-3 blowout on Monday that evened the series at a game apiece. It’s anticipated that Game 3 will be a much lower scoring affair with oddsmakers placing the over-under at seven runs.
Roenicke is considering starting Carlos Gomez, a better defensive player in center field than Morgan but not as dangerous at the plate. Morgan is 3 for 20 in the postseason.
“We may make a change or two,” Roenicke said. “I think we’ll probably stay the same, but we’ll see.”
The biggest bat for Carpenter to avoid might be Rickie Weeks, and not the Brewers’ big two of Braun and Prince Fielder. Weeks is 6 for 10 with three homers and six RBIs.
Albert Pujols has the Brewers’ full attention after a breakout Game 2 in which he homered with three doubles and five RBIs.
“We have to make good pitches,” Roenicke said. “We have to make better pitches to him. We hope we get it to a better spot and we hope he misses.”