I think I really got into the non-existent official MVP of the NLDS back in February 2006. That was shortly after then-assistant general manager John Mozeliak of the St. Louis Cardinals was suspected of providing several of the club's free agent signees the sleeves out of his vest, including bonus clauses in the players' contracts for an award that did not and still does not exist.
Hey, at least you have to give the organization points for creativity.
It turned out to be a very prescient thought as the 2006 Cardinals, after treading water for much of the season, put together a playoff run that included the franchise's 10th World Championship.
On the way, after having made a big deal about the NLDS MVP award that spring, I bestowed our own version upon Ronnie Belliard. The second baseman was only briefly a Cardinal, having signed his 2006 contract with the Indians, so he had no LDS MVP clause. He did hit .462 and made several strong defensive plays as the Cards bumped San Diego in four games.
The Cardinals only made the playoffs once since, in 2009. After they were dispatched most painfully in the NLDS by Los Angeles in three straight games, I did not give an MVP award. After all, I didn't want to write about the Dodgers.
Here in 2011, the story is once again better as the Cardinals defeated the 102-win Philadelphia Phillies in a hard-fought five games. Faced with two consecutive elimination games, the Cards took both.
The culmination was Chris Carpenter's three-hit complete game shutout at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park on Friday, as the 36-year-old led the Cards to a 1-0 victory. The right-hander secured 17 ground ball outs while outduelling another former Cy Young Award winner, Roy Halladay. It was a dominating performance that reminded some of past Cardinals October pitching stars like Bob Gibson.
In fact, the complete game shutout was just the 13th in postseason play in team history. It was the first since Danny Cox blanked the San Francisco Giants by a 6-0 score in the seventh and deciding game of the 1987 NL Championship Series.
Related article: Was Carp's performance the best ever by a Cardinal all-time in the post-season? Consider the candidates and vote at The Cardinal Nation Blog.
Carpenter is just the third pitcher in postseason history to throw a shutout and allow three or-fewer hits in a winner-take-all game. The Yankees' Johnny Kucks tossed a three-hit shutout in Game 7 of the 1956 World Series against Brooklyn and the Dodgers' Sandy Koufax also threw a three-hit shutout in Game 7 of the 1965 World Series in Minnesota.
It was a stark contract to Carp's Game 2 start, in which he pitched on short rest for the first time in his career and struggled. He lasted just three innings, allowing all four earned runs, in a game the Cards came back to win, 5-4.
Other Cardinals with solid LDS performances
Third baseman David Freese led the club with five RBI, four of which powered St. Louis to the crucial Game 4 win. Two came home on a double, with the other two on a home run.
Though right fielder Lance Berkman batted just .167, he scored a team-high four runs.
Albert Pujols posted a .350 average (7-for-20), including three doubles, though he plated just one run.
Shortstop Rafael Furcal handled two dozen chances flawlessly, including six putouts and 18 assists. He was involved in two double plays and was especially sharp behind Carpenter in Game 5. Furcal led off three of the games with a hit, including two triples.
On the pitching side, Jason Motte saved the Cards' first two wins, tossing 3 1/3 scoreless on just one hit.
Octavio Dotel threw 2 2/3 perfect innings over three games, fanning four.
Arthur Rhodes was asked to retire a single batter in three games and did his job all three times, including a pair of strikeouts.
Fernando Salas allowed one run in 3 2/3 innings and deserves special note for stabilizing Game 2 with two important shutout innings after Carpenter's early departure.
Though Jaime Garcia took the loss in Game 3, he allowed just three runs in seven solid innings.
Edwin Jackson yielded only two runs over six innings in his Game 4 must-win victory. This performance should not be lost in Carpenter's considerable shadow.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Look for his weekly minor league column on Thursdays at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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