The St Louis Cardinals edged the Philadelphia Phillies in a 1-0 thriller Friday to reach the National League Championship Series (NLCS) after a classic pitching duel between Chris Carpenter and Roy Halladay.

The highly-anticipated match-up, the first between the former team mates and close friends, lived up to its billing as the wild card Cardinals clinched the best-of-five divisional series 3-2.

The only run of the game was produced by the first two batters.

Rafael Furcal led off with a triple to right-center and Skip Schumaker brought him home with a double to right.

That was it for the scoring as Cy Young holder Halladay and former winner Carpenter, who came of age together as minor leaguers in the Toronto Blue Jays system, took over the show.

Carpenter threw a three-hit shutout to just shade Halladay, who gave up six hits in his eight innings of work.

That was some kind of fun, said Carpenter, who was mobbed by team mates after the final out. We were able to get out there and get that one run early off Doc (Halladay) and he dominated the rest of the game. It was an awesome night, unbelievable.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said the pitching match-up was one for the ages.

As a fan we were blessed to have these two guys, said La Russa, a major league manager for more than 30 years. I take my hat off to Roy Halladay, but Carp was great as well.

The game ended with Phillies slugger Ryan Howard crumpled to the ground as the Cardinals celebrated after he had slashed a grounder to second baseman Nick Punto. Howard was helped off the field with an injured left ankle.

Great fielding plays added to the suspense.

Shortstop Furcal dove outstretched to snare a grounder up the middle by Carlos Ruiz, sprang to his feet and gunned him out in the eighth inning. Punto registered the next out by changing course to field a ball that ricocheted off Carpenter.

Philadelphia's Chase Utley raised hopes of Phillies fans in the ninth when he smacked a Carpenter pitch deep to center before Jon Jay corralled it before banging into the fence.

Halladay pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the top of the eighth when he struck out Lance Berkman and got Matt Holliday to fly out to left to keep it a one-run game.

He's a great friend of mine, said Carpenter. He did a great job tonight also. He battled.

The win was another surprising step for a Cardinals team that trailed the Atlanta Braves by 8- games in the wild card race in the first days of September.

The NL-best Phillies opened the playoff door for St Louis by sweeping a three-game series from the Braves to end the regular season.

Carpenter said falling so far behind took some pressure off the team.

I think guys were relaxed and just having fun, he said. Everybody was expecting us to have no chance and we just started playing like the team we knew we were.

The Cardinals will contest the best-of-seven NLCS with the Milwaukee Brewers, who beat the Arizona Diamondbacks in 10 innings earlier Friday to reach the penultimate stop on the road to the World Series.