The dead-on in-game strategizing of manager Tony La Russa.
The shutdown arm and masterful game-calling of catcher Yadier Molina.
Still the game's most-feared hitter in first baseman Albert Pujols, with a cast of power around him that adds up to an American League-like lineup production.
Quality arms, one after another, coming out of the bullpen to protect late leads.
But in this postseason, when the rest of their rotation has faltered, never have the Cardinals needed ace Chris Carpenter more. And the latest example of Carpenter responding came last night in a 3-2 Cardinals victory over the Texas Rangers in World Series Game 1.
"He's our guy,'' outfielder Lance Berkman said about Carpenter. "When he takes the mound, we feel like we're going to win the game every time. I think when that comes true, it just builds confidence. You certainly want to win the game your ace pitches. I think for us to be successful, clearly in the postseason to this point, that has been a big factor.''
There is no bigger name in Cardinals' postseason history than Bob Gibson, a two-time World Series MVP (1964, 1967) who would have won a third (1968) if not for a slip/outfield misplay that led to a Game 7 loss. But last night, Carpenter surpassed Gibson's club record with his eighth postseason win — the asterisk attached being Gibson only pitched in World Series games.
How important was the Cardinals' Game 1 win against the favored Rangers? Game 1 winners have gone on to win seven of the last eight World Series, and 12 of the last 14. And consider the alternative: The Rangers winning Game 1, and having their best postseason pitcher in Colby Lewis going in Game 2 before the series shifts back to Arlington for three games.
But now it's advantage, Cardinals.
Carpenter faltered only when Rangers catcher Mike Napoli blasted a two-run, game-tying homer in the top of the fifth. Otherwise, the 36-year-old right-hander allowed four other hits — three singles and a double — in six sharp innings against an offense that pounded its way into the World Series.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Carpenter helped his own cause early, when he dove to grab Pujols' slightly errant toss to first base on Elvis Andrus' bouncer to the right side in the top of the first. Carpenter landed awkwardly on his left shoulder, and considering he already has had right elbow soreness in this postseason, it was a scary moment for the Cardinals.
"That ball in the first (inning), I think we need to work on that one next spring in PFP (pitchers' fielding practice),'' Carpenter joked. "It was just an instinct. (Pujols) threw that ball, it was a little out of my reach, and I dove. I was like, 'I'm going to go get it', and it worked out.''
The Cardinals pushed across the go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth, when David Freese led off with a double to the wall in right-center and scored on a single by pinch-hitter Allen Craig just inside the right-field line that Nelson Cruz dove for but couldn't reach.
"When you've got a guy like Chris Carpenter on the mound and you get a lead, your chances (of winning the game) are pretty good,'' Freese said. "Playing a team like Texas, you love to get off to a start like that.''
Carpenter was lifted for the Craig pinch-hit at-bat, and then La Russa deftly guided Fernando Salas, Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel, Arthur Rhodes and Jason Motte through the final nine outs. And the Cardinals are enjoying that same feeling as they did after Game 1 of the 2006 World Series, which they won in six games over the favored Detroit Tigers.
"I remember the confidence level our ball club had going into Game 2 (in 2006),'' Carpenter said. "We knew we were facing Kenny Rogers, and it really didn't matter what happened, to be honest with you. I remember getting on the bus (after Game 2) and everybody was like, whatever, it's 1-1 and we're going back to our place.
"Is (winning Game 1) the defining factor in this series? Absolutely not. But I do remember the confidence level that we had after winning Game 1 (in 2006) — especially Game 1 in their place.''
Taking a look at some of the greatest catchers off all time.