posted on February 06, 2013 00:00
The End of The Carpenter Era…The End of An Era
That’s the word Mike Matheny used to describe Chris Carpenter at yesterday’s news conference announcing the Cardinal starter’s career is all but over.
It’s the perfect word.
For those of us who didn’t get a chance to see Bob Gibson pitch, we can imagine what it was like by having watched Carpenter.
And for those of us who never got a chance to stand in the batter’s box against Carpenter, we can watch videos of The Ryan Kelley Morning After at Spring Training and see him glare at Producer Joe each morning with that death stare.
One of the strangest things I experienced when I first started working at KMOV in 2000 was going down to the locker room after the Cardinals, Rams, or Blues lost…and discovering I was more upset about it than some of the guys who had just played the game.
Suffice it to say, I didn’t see that with Chris Carpenter.
I’m not sure I can think of a St. Louis athlete who wanted to win more than Carpenter…and who willed himself to compete more than Chris Carpenter…and who willed himself to succeed more than Chris Carpenter.
I mean…this guy was on the scrap heap before he even got to St. Louis. He had to sit out all of 2003. He arrives in 2004 and kills it, but he gets hurt late in the season. How would he respond in 2005?
By winning the Cy Young.
He leads his team to the World Championship in 2006…only to get hurt on Opening Day in 2007.
He grinds it and grinds it and grinds it to try and come back not in 2007…but not in 2007…14 months later in 2008. And then after 15.1 innings pitched, he has to shut it down…again.
Back to the question that many asked after 2002…and after 2003…and after 2004…and after 2007…and now again after 2008:
How will he respond?
The answer: a league-leading 2.29 ERA and second place in the Cy Young.
In 2010, he led the league in games started all while carrying a 2.24 ERA.
And, to finish off this textbook Hollywood script about an aging, beat-up ballplayer with the maniacal desire to keep competing, Carpenter gives us October 2011.
He outduels one of his closest friends and one of the best pitchers in the game…on his turf…against the World Series favorite…in an elimination game.
Complete game. Shutout. Silence in Philadelphia. Only one sound is heard as it all ends…and it’s the scream from the 36 year-old who recorded the final out.
And then three weeks later.
Game 7 of the World Series.
On short rest.
He threw 101 pitches Monday. He’s starting the most important game of his life on Friday.
And when it was all said and done, he walks off the mound after six innings having allowed just two runs…and pitching his team to within nine outs of the World Championship.
There may have been guys with better stuff, but when it’s all on the line, there wasn’t a guy you’d rather have out there.
Four World Series starts. Three wins. 2.00 ERA.
That stat line about sums it up.
But, man, if you only went by stats, you were missing quite a show.
At times, he was a madman out on the mound.
But, damn, was it ever refreshing?
He cared…and you knew it.
And somehow, it didn’t seem like he really gave a damn about his individual numbers. Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure he did. But, this guy was consumed by winning. His work with the younger pitchers illustrated that. He didn’t get any extra money out of that. One of the most surprising---and valuable---scenes you’d see before some Cardinal games was Carpenter standing next to Dave Duncan watching a young guy throw bullpen.
Carpenter set the tone for the pitching staff and with Carpenter operating as the pitchers’ sheriff, you didn’t see much jackoffery on that staff.
As a matter of fact, when he was healthy and pitching, the Cardinals were successful. Period.
When Carpenter threw 17 innings or more, dating back to his first year here in 2004, the team went to the playoffs in every season but one.
For a generation of Cardinal fans, Carpenter will be the standard by which a starting pitcher’s resolve is compared. And perhaps the fact that future pitchers will be held to his standard is even more phenomenal when you consider he didn’t throw a pitch in a Cardinal uniform until he was 55 weeks shy of his 30th birthday. On top of that, he missed just about all of three full seasons.
Imagine if he would’ve gotten here at a younger age…
Imagine if he would’ve been able to stay healthy…
Imagine Chris Carpenter’s passion for his craft in many ballplayers…hell…many athletes…hell…many people.
That #29 was one tough motherfucker.
Chris Carpenter’s baseball career won’t end up in Cooperstown, but his balls should be in the Smithsonian.
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