Chuck Finley and Woody Williams are historic examples of why age shouldn’t be a concern regarding Chris Carpenter and his Game 6 start for the Cardinals against the Giants in the 2012 National League Championship Series.
Five pitchers 37 or older have earned wins for the Cardinals in National League Championship Series games. Two, Finley and Williams, won as starters. (The starting catcher in both of those games was Mike Matheny, manager of the 2012 Cardinals.) Two, Finley and reliever Bob Forsch, beat the Giants.
Carpenter, 37, starts for the Cardinals Oct. 21 in Game 6 of the 2012 NL Championship Series at San Francisco. In 17 career postseason starts for St. Louis, including two in 2012, Carpenter is 10-3 with a 2.94 ERA.
Besides Finley and Williams, other Cardinals pitchers 37 or older who posted wins in NL Championship Series games were relievers Forsch, 37 (Game 3 in 1987 vs. the Giants); Dennis Eckersley, 42 (Game 4 in 1996 vs. the Braves); and Octavio Dotel, 37 (Game 5 in 2011 vs. the Brewers). Dotel turned 38 a month after the win.
Finley was 39 (he turned 40 a month later) when he started and won Game 3 of the 2002 NL Championship Series at San Francisco. In his last game of a 17-year big-league career, the left-hander wasn’t sharp _ Finley yielded four runs on seven hits and three walks in five innings _ but he was good enough.
Finley pitched out of bases-loaded jams in the first and second innings. The Giants totaled one run from those threats. In the second, with the bases loaded and two outs, Finley got left fielder Barry Bonds to pop out to shallow right field.
“I attribute their scoring only one run to a good, veteran pitcher,” Matheny said to Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after the game. “Finley did a good job of keeping his composure and giving us a chance, because it could really have gotten ugly there. He made pitches he needed to make.”
Finley also ignited the Cardinals’ offense. In the third, he struck out, but catcher Benito Santiago couldn’t handle the last pitch and Finley hustled safely to first base. The Cardinals went on to score twice in the inning, taking a 2-1 lead.
In the fifth, Bonds tied the score, 4-4, with a three-run home run into McCovey Cove off Finley. But Cardinals left fielder Eli Marrero led off the sixth with a solo homer off reliever Jay Witasick, the Cardinals’ bullpen pitched four shutout innings in relief of Finley and St. Louis won, 5-4, its only triumph in the best-of-seven series. Boxscore
The Post-Dispatch deemed Finley the most valuable player of the game. Wrote Rick Hummel: The Giants should have scored five runs in the first two innings. Instead, they got one in the first two innings off a resourceful Chuck Finley, and that largely is why they lost to the Cardinals.
Two years later, Williams, 38, started and won Game 1 of the 2004 NL Championship Series against the Astros at St. Louis. The right-hander gave up four runs on two-run homers by center fielder Carlos Beltran (now an outfielder for the 2012 Cardinals) and second baseman Jeff Kent, but St. Louis led, 10-4, when Williams was lifted after six innings. St. Louis went on to a 10-7 victory, the only NL Championship Series win for Williams in a 15-year big-league career. Boxscore
Williams trailed 2-0 after facing just two batters. Left fielder Craig Biggio led off the game with a single and Beltran followed with his home run. Williams then retired the next nine batters in a row. After Kent homered in the fourth, Williams set down eight of the next nine.
“I felt good out there,” Williams said to the Post-Dispatch after the game. “I didn’t feel good after the first two hitters of the game by any stretch of the imagination. But I think I settled in pretty good and it was what I thought it would be going in, a battle.
“I knew I had to step it up (after the first two batters scored). I knew I had to pitch better. Luckily, they were hitting the ball on the ground right at guys.”
Said Astros manager Phil Garner of Williams: “He kept them in the ballgame … We didn’t string a whole lot of hits together … You have to give him credit for that. The home runs didn’t unsettle him. He stayed focused on the ballgame.”