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in game 1 the cardinals re-enacted their regular season in miniature: nails at the beginning and in the middle, shaky at the end -- shaky enough to make the faithful uneasy. as they did in the campaign, the cards yesterday established an early lead and gradually built it into an insurmountable bulge, one large enough to withstand a sloppy endgame.

carpenter turned in an extremely encouraging effort. though far from dominating, he pitched with intelligence and composure, found his way through even without a consistent curveball. the key at-bat of the game, imho, was his 9-pitch tussle with mark loretta in the top of the 3d. it had taken carp 45 pitches to labor through the padres batting order once, and he began his 2d pass by yielding sharp singles to roberts and klesko; they were on base with one out as loretta stepped in. the deadly giles loomed on deck, followed by sweeney -- a big inning in the making. carpenter began with a cutter, which loretta chopped foul; wasted a curveball (and not a good one) inside, then came back with a fastball on the inside corner and induced another foul. ahead 1-2 in the count, he summoned molina to the mound for a quick conference; as molina trotted back to his position espn's camera caught carpenter taking a slow, deep breath, his eyes closed. relax . . . . . yadi set up off the outside corner on the 1-2 pitch and carp wasted another curve, trying to get loretta to chase; they didn't trust the pitch well enough to throw it for a strike, and abandoned it for the rest of the at-bat. on 2-2 he missed molina's target badly with a fastball, down the middle and high for ball three. at that point it became what the old-timers like to call country hardball -- three straight fastballs, outside inside inside, all of them fouled off.

i found it significant that the padres chose to start the runners. they obviously considered a groundball dp a higher risk than a strikeout-throwout dp, a calculation they might not have made a month ago when carp was still blowing guys away. loretta's a good contact hitter, but carpenter did finish 2d in the league in strikeouts, and with giles on deck one would imagine . . . . well, maybe this was simply bochy following through on his small-ball promise. also noteworthy: much-maligned commentator joe morgan alertly pointed out how the infielders played it, noting after the 2d foul ball that abe o nunez was conceding the stolen base to roberts, staying at his position instead of leaving to cover the bag. and damned if loretta didn't hit the ball right to nunez two pitches later, on the 9th pitch of the at-bat and the 4th consecutive 3-2 fastball. loretta hit it hard, too -- hard enough that nunez could field it and still beat the speedy roberts to 3d base, runners in motion and all.

these are the types of confrontations that make october so compelling, and they're as much about will power and poise as anything else. i give carpenter and loretta equal credit; neither one gave an inch. carp kept throwing his best pitch for strikes and loretta kept spoiling it, chasing it around the strike zone until he caught up with it and made hard contact. the shadow confrontation -- between bochy, who put his runners in motion, and la russa, who kept his infielders at home -- was just as compelling. the cardinals won this particular battle. luck? to a degree -- if loretta hits the ball a couple feet to nunez's left maybe it gets through; at the very least it keeps san diego out of the double play and bring giles to the plate. the cards would have walked him, setting up a difficult at-bat against sweeney -- carp would have been at 20 pitches on the inning, and nearly 60 on the game, and still without a reliable curve. . . . instead, by the time carpenter returned to the mound he had a 4-run lead.

which leads me to another confrontation, that between peavy and sanders in the bottom of the 3d. reggie batted with the sacks jammed, 1 out, and the cards ahead 2-0; still a game. after falling behind 0-2 he should have been toast -- over the last four years, 50 percent of his at-bats that start out 0-2 have ended in a whiff, and against a strikeout pitcher like peavy he has no defenses. just throw a high fastball down the middle and he's out; we've known that about reggie since the 2002 playoffs, when he played against us with the giants and went 1 for 16 in the series. of course, we now also know that peavy was pitching with a busted rib (!!) or two, which may have informed his decision to get cute; he tossed a slider away-away, and sanders took a very intelligent stroke and simply put the ball in play. it should have been gloved cleanly and turned into an out, but that's still a run; sweeney's misplay afield added another run and left the door open for still further mischief. (grud'ks ensuing gidp saved peavy's bacon for another couple innings.)

of the bullpen's performance, only this -- the cardinals can still change personnel if they move on to the nlcs. (a reyes of hope) . . . .