Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter carried those thoughts to the mound with him Friday night when he went the distance in a 1-0 victory over the Phillies in the decisive Game 5 of the National League Division Series at Citizens Bank Park.
With the series on the line, Carpenter stepped up with a heroic effort, winning a classic pitchers' duel with his close friend, Roy Halladay.
"Through that game, all I did was continue to tell myself to enjoy this," Carpenter said. "I might never be here again. Enjoy the moment, enjoy the what we're doing, enjoy all the hoopla about me and Doc, everything that led to us beating the Phillies."
As thrilling as it was to shut down the Phillies and advance to the National League Championship Series, Carpenter is set to take the stage again in an even a bigger setting.
The former Cy Young Award winner is lined up for Game 3 of the NLCS on Wednesday night, drawing yet another tough assignment in Brewers right-hander Yovani Gallardo.
- 2011 Regular Season
- Overall: 34 GS, 11-9, 3.45 ERA, 55 BB, 191 K
- Overall: 33 GS, 17-10, 3.52 ERA, 59 BB, 207 K
- Key stat: Three SOs, including NLDS Game 5; had one in previous two seasons
- Key stat: Career-best 3.51 K-BB ratio (9th in NL)
- At BUSCH STADIUM
- 2011 Regular Season: 17 GS, 4-3, 3.05
Career: 67 GS, 32-14, 2.58
- 2011 Regular Season: 3 GS, 1-2, 3.32
Career: 5 GS, 1-3, 4.05
- Against this opponent
- 2011 Regular Season: 4 GS, 2-2, 3.86
Career: 15 GS, 6-6, 4.58
- 2011 Regular Season: 4 GS, 1-3, 5.70
Career: 11 GS, 1-7, 5.66
- Loves to face.: Jonathan Lucroy, 1-for-10
Hates to face: Rickie Weeks, 6-for-10
- Loves to face: Matt Holliday, 4-for-18
Hates to face: Albert Pujols, 12-for-27
- Game breakdown
- Why he'll win: Given up zero runs in four of last seven outings, including three-hit shutout in NLDS
- Why he'll win: Solid starts in Games 1 and 5 of NLDS both led to MIL wins
- Pitcher beware: Struggled following each of last two SOs (8 ERs in 10 innings)
- Pitcher beware: Just one win in 11 career starts against the Redbirds
- Bottom line: Duplicate last start
- Bottom line: Build off solid NLDS
The Cardinals gained some momentum by beating the Brewers, 12-3, in Game 2 at Miller Park on Monday night, evening the best-of-seven series.
"It's a great feeling for us, but it's the same exact feeling Milwaukee has with Gallardo," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "He's a top-of-the-rotation guy."
All the makings of a low-scoring game are in place for Game 3.
A puzzling statistic in the matchup is the fact Gallardo is 1-7 in his career against the Cardinals.
"Yeah, it's weird, whacky," La Russa said. "Yeah, obviously we're aware of some of those numbers. ... This guy is top shelf, a top-of-the-rotation starter."
For St. Louis, having Carpenter on the hill creates an added sense of confidence.
"Whenever you've got your guy going for you, you feel good about it," right fielder Lance Berkman said. "Of course, they've got their guy going. It's kind of like, you go into that situation we had in Philadelphia."
Each step up the postseason ladder carries greater importance. But embracing crucial situations is nothing new for the 36-year-old right-hander.
Already, Carpenter has turned the page from his brilliant outing at Philadelphia.
"This is a different team," he said of Milwaukee. "A different series. A different atmosphere. We are not in Philly, we're at home. There's all kinds of things that are different, and you go out and prepare yourself for the Milwaukee Brewers."
The Brewers' lineup presents challenges up and down the order. Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder provide arguably the best one-two punch in the playoffs.
"From top to bottom, their lineup is very tough," Carpenter said. "That being said, you can still make pitches, and you've got to get the ball down, and so far in this series, when you saw guys getting outs, they controlled the counts, got ahead in the count, and kept the ball down in the zone."
On the road since Oct. 6, the Cardinals have a sense of relief to be back in St. Louis for three straight games. But being home can mean more outside demands. In Carpenter's case, it's dealing with more media at the park, and more requests for tickets from his family and friends.
"Every year, and every round of the playoffs, there's distractions all around, all kinds of different things," said Carpenter, who was 11-9 with a 3.45 ERA in 34 regular season starts. "If you can't eliminate those on your day, you're going to have a difficult time. It can go from family stuff, clubhouse stuff, opponents, friendships, whatever it is. It's hard enough as it is to go out and compete against these guys with no distractions."
Being at home for three straight games gives St. Louis a chance to seize control of the NLCS. As improbable as the Cardinals' run to the postseason was, and their impressive performances in October, Berkman makes it clear that this is not a surprise team.
"We feel good about where we're at," Berkman said. "I think people from the outside view this team as sort of a Cinderella story. We look at it like, this is where we're supposed to be from the beginning of the season. When I signed here -- of course, this was before [Adam] Wainwright blew his elbow out -- but when I signed here, I was thinking, 'This team can easily win the World Series.' That's how good I thought we were."
The Cardinals are even better when Carpenter is on the mound.
Even though it was a down year, by Carpenter's standards, he still was a workhorse, logging 237 1/3 innings. Only the 241 2/3 innings he threw in 2005 were more. That season, he finished 21-5 and won the NL Cy Young Award.
Down the stretch, however, it was typical Carpenter, as he was 3-0 with a 2.15 ERA in six September starts this year. Against Milwaukee, the right-hander was 2-2 with a 3.86 ERA, winning his last two starts against the Brewers. He threw a four-hit shutout against the Crew on Sept. 7 in St. Louis. And on Aug. 11, he allowed two runs in eight innings at home, beating Gallardo.
Fiercely competitive, Carpenter became the target of a verbal jab from Milwaukee right-hander Zack Greinke before the first pitch of the NLCS was thrown.
After saying that the the Brewers don't really like Carpenter, Greinke said that he and his teammates "think his presence, his attitude out there sometimes is like a phony attitude. But -- and then he yells at people. He just stares people down and stuff. And most pitchers just don't do that."
Since Greinke's remarks a few days ago, both teams have brushed them aside.
"I don't know if he just was careless," La Russa said on Tuesday, adding he has heard Greinke is a high-class guy. "I also heard and read a bunch of the other guys in their club compliment Chris. I think it's just one of those deals where, you know, something was said."
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke downplayed Greinke's remarks.
"I don't worry too much about what's being said," Roenicke said. "You guys know Zack, and you know what he's going to say when you ask questions. It's no big deal. There's a lot made out of it that really isn't there."