There it was. The Chris Carpenter that everyone had been waiting for.
It's not that he's been bad so far. A win, a loss, and a no-decision, eight earned runs and 12 strikeouts over 17.1 innings. Nothing terrible, but also nothing spectacular, and for better or worse, spectacular is precisely what everybody has come to expect from Carpenter, the winner of last year's Cy Young award.
This year, he has a different award in mind. Carp, as he's affectionately known throughout Redbird Nation, on Tuesday night took the mound in the top of the first and quickly established that he owned it. While Detroit pitcher Nate Robertson struggled as the Cardinals kept loading the bases and putting runners on the corners, Carpenter sailed. Soared. Glided. He held the Tigers -- who have averaged five-and-a-half runs per game so far in the post-season -- to three little singles; the other five innings that he pitched moved like clockwork. Three up, three down, and that was the ballgame.
When Carp is in the zone to this extent, he doesn't need much offense, and he got more than enough when Jim Edmonds hit a bases-loaded double to drive in two runs in the fourth. It was all Carpenter needed, but Detroit gave him a little more. Two walks and a throwing error by Tigers' relief pitcher Joel Zumaya in the seventh put two unearned runs on the board for the Cards, and a wild pitch with the bases loaded in the eighth scored So Taguchi for one more.
So many potential stories were swirling around Busch Stadium prior to first pitch: how Carpenter felt about his first ever World Series start, especially after missing his team's 2004 appearance with a nerve injury; the ongoing Dirtgate speculation.
But Carp silenced them all the best way he knows how -- with pinpoint precision and curveballs that seemed to jump into the catcher's glove, with the kind of cohesive performance that can mesmerize a crowd.
At the end of the game, there was only one story, and it had nothing to do with 2004 or pine tar. Chris Carpenter's hand was clean, his head was clear, and his ERA in the World Series is 0.00. Eight innings, three hits, six strikeouts, no walks.
And no scandals.