PHILADELPHIA Don't count out these St. Louis Cardinals.
They don't know when to call it a season.
"This club was hit by a lot of stuff the first four months of the season," said manager Tony La Russa. "The guys just decided we were going to play every game like it's Game 7 of the World Series, and they did it every day for six weeks."
And they aren't stopping yet.
With Chris Carpenter pitching the first 1-0 complete game of his professional career on Friday night, the Cardinals survived a Game 5 showdown with a Philadelphia team that won more games than any team this year, and advanced to the NL Championship Series for the first time since 2006.
They open the best-of-seven showdown with NL Central champion Milwaukee at Miller Park on Sunday afternoon.
"And," La Russa said with a smile, "we're going to start Carp on two days rest four times (in the NLCS)."
But then that gem that Carpenter put together in a showdown with his close friend and former Toronto teammate, Philadelphia right-hander Roy Halladay, was the type of effort that allowed the Cardinals to feel good.
It was only the third time a postseason elimination game ended 1-0, the first since Jack Morris went eight innings to pitch Minnesota over Atlanta to the 1991 World Series championship, and it allowed the Cardinals to continue a season that six weeks ago seemed over.
They woke up the morning of Aug. 26, and not only were a non-factor in trying to catch Milwaukee in the NL Central race, but were 10 12 games back of Atlanta in the NL wild-card battle.
It was Carpenter on the mound in Houston in the regular-season finale on Sept. 28 who pitched the 8-0 wild-card clinching victory, and he matched that on Friday night, even without the offensive outpouring.
The Cardinals got to Halladay for a run before he got an out. Rafael Furcal led off with a triple and Skip Schumaker followed by doubling him home. Turned out that one run was the only run Carpenter and the Cardinals would need.
It was the perfect bounce-back for Carpenter, who in Game 2 had been asked to start on three days of rest for the first time in his career, and stumbled through three innings. His teammates picked him up in that game, rallying for a 5-4 wins against Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee.
There was no stumble in Game 5.
"The challenge (in Game 5) was fair," said La Russa. "The other day, it wasn't fair. I do think he can pitch on three days rest, but early on in that game his delivery was out of whack. This game was fair. Our team likes when he starts, and I really believe part of Game 2 was we were going to pick him up since he has picked us up so many times."
The pick-me-ups that Carpenter got in Game 5 were of the defensive nature, including catcher Yadier Molina throwing out Chase Utley attempting to steal second on a first-pitch breaking ball in the sixth. Carpenter also got a stroke of good fortune when Ryan Howard flied out to right on a 3-0 pitch to open the seventh.
"You look at the whole game, and everything that went on in that game, and it was just a tremendous job by our ballclub," said Carpenter.
None of it would have mattered, however, had it not been for the right arm of Carpenter, who was run out of Toronto by former Blue Jays general manager J.P. Riccardi, who refused to give him a guaranteed 300,000 contract for the 2003 season because Carpenter was going to be rehabbing from surgery that year.
Texas, Baltimore and St. Louis agreed to the deal, which included an option for 2004 also at 300,000, the major-league minimum salary. Carpenter took the Cardinals' offer, and spent the last eight years repaying them for their faith.
Oh, injuries limited him to 21 13 innings over the 2007-08 seasons, but he is 95-42 overall with the Cardinals. He's also been a three-time All-Star, and won the NL Cy Young in 2005 before finishing third in the voting in 2006 and second in 2009.
"This has worked out every well," said Carpenter.
No one night worked out better than Friday, even if Carpenter downplayed the win-or-go-home-for-the-winter nature of the night.
"The magnitude of this game was the same as it has been for the last weeks for our club and for me," said Carpenter. "The magnitude of that game in Houston was enormous. If I go out and get shelled and we lose, we are not (in the postseason).
"We've been dealing with this the whole time. For me, it was another game. I'm going out to do the best I can to give my team a chance to win and move to the next round."
Carpenter did that, as well as it could be done, too well to suit the Phillies.
"It is special, but we've got to get focused on what's ahead," said Carpenter.
First, there's Milwaukee in the NLCS. Then there's a possible World Series showdown.
And later this winter, there is going to be a fishing trip with his pal, Halladay, who recently extended the invitation for the offseason excursion.
"We'll see," Carpenter said when asked who was going to buy the bait and the beer. "We'll see."