Carpenter gave his team its best starting pitching performance in weeks as St. Louis beat the Pirates, 2-1, at PNC Park on Tuesday night. For a team that had been groping for any sort of success from a starting pitcher, ace Carpenter delivered that and much more.
The reigning National League Cy Young winner dominated for seven shutout innings, striking out a career-high 13, to end what had been a lengthy slump for the Redbirds rotation. It was only the second win for a St. Louis starter this month.
"My stuff was as good tonight as it's ever been," said Carpenter.
He struck out Pirates hitters swinging, and he caught them looking. He struck them out with sinking fastballs, cut fastballs and curveballs. And yet he didn't deviate from his usual plan in the slightest. He just put everything where he wanted it.
"He didn't look very hittable tonight," said Scott Rolen, who delivered the offense. "He looked like he had guys guessing on both sides of the plate. He looked fairly Cy Young-ish up there."
Cards starters entered the game with exactly one win and a 6.89 ERA for the month of June. The last time a Cardinals starter went six or more innings and didn't allow a run was May 17. The last time a member of the rotation lasted seven innings, regardless of runs allowed, was May 27.
For a team built around its rotation, this was a badly needed turnaround.
"Obviously, we want to pitch well as a staff," said Carpenter. "The last few weeks we haven't been going deep into games like we normally do, and our pitch counts have gotten up. But I think everybody is out there doing the best they can, trying to do everything they can to keep our team in the game."
Even Carpenter himself hadn't been at his best recently. Bookending a brief stay on the disabled list were his two roughest outings of the year. Before Tuesday, the last time Carpenter went more than six innings or allowed fewer than three runs was May 9.
"I've been working hard to get myself back mechanically to where I was last year," he said. "I was struggling a little bit mechanically, getting around the ball and throwing sideways instead of forward."
Braden Looper and Randy Flores pitched the eighth for St. Louis, and Jason Isringhausen closed it out for his 21st save on the year. More importantly, it was Isringhausen's 161st save in a Cardinals uniform, breaking the franchise record previously held by Lee Smith.
That meant as much to Carpenter as his own personal accomplishment.
Cardinals career saves leaders
Rolen provided most of the hitting heroics for Carpenter, with two doubles, an RBI and a run scored. Rolen had four hits total for his 10th multi-hit game since May 19, and he leads the National League with a .351 batting average.
The Cards didn't manage much else against left-hander Oliver Perez, who pitched a fine game overall. But Rolen doubled with one out in the fourth and scored on Juan Encarnacion's single, then doubled home So Taguchi in the fifth.
In eight games since Albert Pujols was lost to a strained oblique muscle, Rolen is 13-for-27 (.481) with nine runs scored, 10 RBIs and six extra-base hits.
"Never underestimate a great player who's a great competitor," said manager Tony La Russa. "Never.
"It's just so impressive, and he's done it when we need it the most, because we're down a key producer."
The Cardinals have won three out of four on their current road trip after dropping five of their previous six games to close out the previous homestand. Their lead in the National League Central is back up to three games, just five days after they trailed the Reds by half a game.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.