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HINGTON -- Here's a simple, declarative statement: Chris Carpenter will start Game 3 of the National League Division Series for the Cardinals against the Nationals on Wednesday afternoon (Noon CT, MLB Network).
Really, though, there was nothing simple about getting to that point. Not earlier in the season, when nobody could quite figure out what was bothering the ace right-hander -- or what to do about it. Not in July, when he finally underwent surgery to correct a nerve issue that was affecting his neck and shoulder, a procedure that required removing a rib.
"Everybody knows it wasn't supposed to happen," Carpenter noted dryly after the Cards conducted a light workout at Nationals Park.
The 37-year-old insists that he never stopped believing, that as he went through his rehab he always thought he'd be back this year. And he was right. He pitched three games at the end of the regular season, improving each time out, and now will get the ball in the NLDS. "I'm excited for it," he said. "The medical staff put a lot of work into it. The trainers did a great job. And I put a lot of work into it to hopefully have this opportunity. I didn't know if I was going to have this opportunity or not, and fortunately, I do."
Carpenter has won a Cy Young and finished in the Top 3 on two other occasions. He has two World Series rings. What he brings to the team on the mound is pretty obvious.
What he does behind closed doors, though, is no less significant. Which is why Mike Matheny believes he made a contribution even while sidelined earlier this season. Which is also why he was one of the veterans who was asked to speak at a team meeting before the NLDS opened.
"To have somebody who is a Cy Young Award winner, has a couple of World Series championships under his belt, and to be able to put him in front of the team for a playoff series and just let him share something is invaluable," the manager explained.
Loves to face: Ryan Zimmerman: 3-for-13. Hates to face: Ian Desmond: 4-for-7, 3 RBI.
Loves to face: Carlos Beltran: 1-for-6, 2 K's. Hates to face: Yadier Molina: 8-for-12, 2 HRs, 4 RBIs.
Why he'll win: Carpenter went 4-0 in the 2011 playoffs.
Why he'll win: Jackson has seven games of postseason experience.
Pitcher beware: Carpenter has thrown only 17 innings this season.
Pitcher beware: Jackson went 2-2 with a 6.54 ERA in September.
Bottom line: Carpenter is reliable and playoff-tested.
Bottom line: Jackson is the only Nats starter with postseason experience prior to this season.
"You can just see the young players who have never been here before are like sponges on the edge of their seat, trying to see what they can take in. Just having Carp around, period, makes this team better. He's been a very strong voice for us since the day he came back. And the fact that he came back was pretty remarkable, considering the surgery and the timing he had. Then he comes out and he's thrown better every start he's had.
"He's a mentor. He loves that role. He loves talking to the guys. Whenever he's not pitching, he's out there trying to help somebody, anybody on the field. And that's a rarity in this game, somebody that looks outside themselves that much. But that's the way he learned the game and that's the way he's passing it on and we're fortunate to have him."
Infielder Matt Carpenter, no relation, just completed his first full year in the big leagues. And he was enthralled by what the veteran had to say.
"Oh, man, yeah. Any time you get a guy like Chris to address the team, it's great," Carpenter said. "The veteran leadership he has, the amount of games that he's seen, the championship teams he's been on since he's been a Cardinal. You can just sense that that guy is a natural born leader. His presence in the clubhouse is huge. When he opens his mouth, guys listen. It was definitely a good thing for us young guys. And really, anybody, just to hear him talk.
"He just talked about the mindset of what it takes to succeed in the postseason. He's a competitor. He knows what it takes. He's played at the highest level with it all on the line. So he just gave his insights on how to handle those environments."
But, still, this start was never inevitable. There was even some loose talk that Game 1 starter Kyle Lohse might come back on normal rest in Game 4.
"It really came down to wanting to get Carp on the mound and trying to figure out where it fits best," Matheny said. "Realizing what he brings, and his experience, with the success he's had in the postseason and in his career in general. We were really juggling all the balls from the beginning to see where he would fall in there. Because you could just as easily throw him Game 1 and Game 5 with what he's done in his career. But this is what we felt gives us the best chance."
For the first two games, Chris Carpenter's counsel and wisdom were something the Cardinals could bank on. Wednesday afternoon, of course, he'll let his arm do the talking.