ST. LOUIS – The stage was set for another possible letdown and all eyes were on Chris Carpenter, seeing his first significant Major League action since making an early exit in his only appearance last season.
After falling behind in the season-opening series to the Pirates, who could blame the critics for doubting the Cardinals? And the skepticism over which Chris Carpenter would show up in his 2009 debut was well deserved.
But the questions were quickly answered and the doubters given a backseat when Carpenter picked up his first win of the season with the Cardinals edging the Pirates 2-1 for a series split.
More impressive than Carpenter getting his first win since September 2006 was the manner in which he did it. The former Cy Young Award winner gave up only one hit in seven innings, struck out seven, and would have blanked the Bucs if not for a throwing error by Albert Pujols on a fielder’s choice-double play attempt.
The Cardinals opening series was less than spectacular in terms of splitting with a team projected to finish toward the bottom of the division. But what was clearly learned in the positive realm shined through in glimmers of hope from Carpenter – currently listed fourth on the depth chart – and a promising slugger in Joe Thurston.
Thurston saw limited action in three games but arguably proved more to La Russa than any other young player battling for a spot. Thurston showed definite potential in the field but might be better suited for the offensive side of the ball. Hitting his way into the lineup might be his best shot. So far, he has hit three doubles, knocked in three runs, and nearly every ball that comes off his bat does so with promising power. And if it’s aggressive play you are looking for, he will be the first to admit he was a little too aggressive in Wednesday’s loss, attempting to stretch a double down the left-field line into a triple. He said he never thought twice about it and was “hard-nosed” all the way. He also admitted it was a dumb play.
With any luck, the critics will continue to doubt this year’s Redbirds. They predicted last year’s squad to finish at the bottom, and the Cardinals found themselves within games of playing for a wildcard spot. If one thing has been learned, it is to never doubt the St. Louis farm system, and always expect a team led by Tony La Russa to overachieve.