Carpenter faces Phils on Opening Day

Carpenter faces Phillies on Opening Day

No longer merely first among equals, Chris Carpenter established himself as first among everyone in 2005. The Cardinals right-hander won the Cy Young Award as the National League's top pitcher, enjoying the finest year by a St. Louis hurler in two decades.

Carpenter starts his second consecutive Opening Day when he takes the mound against the Phillies, and it will be the third time in his career he's received the prestigious assignment. But it's the first time he's done so as the unquestioned ace of a staff.

Not that that matters to him, not in the slightest.

"For me, it's Game 1," he said. "Get ready to go. It's the start of the season, and I've got to get locked in and be consistent all year."

In a year in which Carpenter imposed his will -- and his stuff and command -- on pretty much anyone and everyone who got in his way, the Phillies proved quite unfriendly. Carpenter endured his shortest and arguably worst start of the year against Philadelphia in his second outing of the year.

Carpenter has been a Cardinal for two years, and during that time the Phils have given him more consistent trouble than any other squad. He has a 7.59 ERA in four starts against Philadelphia as a Cardinal. Carpenter has been touched for six home runs at Citizens Bank Park, more than at any road ballpark but Wrigley Field -- where he has many more starts.

Not that that matters to him, either. Nor does the fact that the fences have been moved back at the Phillies' two-year-old stadium.

"You just have to make quality pitches," he said. "Houston is the same way, and I've pitched well in Houston. Some of the balls they hit out, it doesn't matter if they moved them 10 feet or not."

Carpenter's opponent on the mound will be Jon Lieber, and there's an interesting parallel between the two righties. Following the 2002 season, both were available as free agents, and both were coming off surgeries.

The Yankees signed Lieber, who has been solid for New York and Philadelphia since then. The Cardinals liked Lieber, but were more intrigued by the potential Carpenter had for brilliance, and signed him instead.

Over the past two years, that hunch has proved prescient. Lieber has been solid and durable but unspectacular, while Carpenter has been as effective as any starter in the National League.

Best of all, he's absolutely driven to do it again.

"Besides his physical gifts, mentally is probably his best gift," said manager Tony La Russa. "He's tough as nails, consistent, reliable. He's got everything working. Reminds me a lot of Albert [Pujols]. Albert comes every year, and it's like he's erased the year before and it's all about the next one. It's a great attitude."

Pitching matchup
STL: RHP Chris Carpenter
• 21-5, 2.83 ERA in 2005
• 1-1, 10.61 ERA in 2005 vs. PHI
• 3-2, 5.56 ERA lifetime vs. PHI

PHI: RHP Jon Lieber
• 17-13, 4.20 ERA in 2005
• 1-1, 6.00 ERA in 2005 vs. STL
• 12-7, 4.67 ERA lifetime vs. STL

  Cardinals probable lineup
 Pos.Name
1.SSDavid Eckstein
2.RFJuan Encarnacion
3.1BAlbert Pujols
4.CFJim Edmonds
5.3BScott Rolen
6.LFSo Taguchi
7.CYadier Molina
8.2BJunior Spivey
9.PChris Carpenter

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• STL: KPLR TV-11
• PHI: WKYW TV-3

On radio
• STL: KTRS AM-550
• PHI: WPHT AM-1210, WDAS AM-1480 (Español)

On deck
• Wednesday: at Phillies, 6:05 p.m. CT
• Thursday: at Phillies, 2:05 p.m. CT
• Friday: at Cubs, 1:20 p.m. CT (Cubs home opener)
• Saturday: at Cubs, 1:20 p.m. CT
• Sunday: at Cubs, 7:05 p.m. CT
• Monday, April 10: vs. Brewers, 3:10 p.m. CT (Cardinals home opener)

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.