Veteran ace Carpenter relishes role as Cards' leader
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FRANCISCO -- Chris Carpenter learned how to be a big leaguer in the late 1990s in Toronto, at the feet of pitchers like Roger Clemens and Pat Hentgen. A few years after that, he learned the St. Louis Cardinals' pitching tradition as a teammate of Matt Morris and Woody Williams.
Now Carpenter is responsible for passing along the very same lessons he learned from those veterans in past seasons. When Carpenter takes the mound in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series on Monday at AT&T Park (7 p.m. CT on FOX), he will do so as a talisman for a city, a leader in his clubhouse, and the heart of a battle-tested roster.
"That's really who he's become now," said manager Mike Matheny, who caught Carpenter when the latter was a youngster in Toronto and a young veteran in St. Louis. "The credentials speak for themselves, what he's been able to do. But the way he goes about it, how he can't wait to help the next guy along, is pretty rare. He's made our staff better. He's made our team better by how he's taken that concept and pushed it onto the position players and everybody in that room where it's not about them, it's about us. And that's pretty special."
Loves to face: Hunter Pence: 5-for-27, 7 K. Hates to face: Ryan Theriot: 7-for-15, 1 BB.
Loves to face: Matt Holliday: 1-for-5, 1 K. Hates to face: Carlos Beltran: 4-for-11, 2 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI.
Why he'll win: After pitching 5 2/3 shutout innings against the Nationals, it appears Carpenter's command and arm strength are no longer concerns.
Why he'll win: Vogelsong was strong at home this year, going 7-4 with a 2.86 ERA
Pitcher beware: Carpenter has pitched a full six innings in only two of his four starts in 2012.
Pitcher beware: In his first career postseason start in Game 3 of the NLDS, Vogelsong lasted only five innings despite throwing 95 pitches.
Bottom line: As he proved in his NLDS start, Carpenter is precisely the pitcher the Cardinals want on the mound in October.
Bottom line: Vogelsong may only have one career postseason start, but he still has eight years of big league experience to fall back on.
Carpenter, now 37, holds another distinction as well. He's become a postseason icon. The right-hander will make his 17th postseason start on Monday, all of them as a member of the Cardinals, who took Game 1, 6-4, on Sunday. He ranks fourth in postseason wins among all big league pitchers since the addition of the Division Series round, ninth in starts, and fifth in ERA among pitchers with at least 10 postseason starts in that time.
For many fans around baseball, he is the face of the Cardinals. Which means that as much as nearly anyone, he's the face of October baseball in the NL. And that's despite having missed nearly three full seasons in the past six years due to injury.
Yet it was entirely unclear, as recently as a month ago, whether he would even pitch this season, never mind this postseason. Carpenter underwent surgery in July for thoracic outlet syndrome in his right arm, and it was believed the operation would end his season. It was even announced by the club that the surgery would end his season.
It didn't, of course. Just another chapter in a story of a man who has become legendary as a competitor.
"As we came out of the surgery and started the rehab process, I felt inside that there was a shot, especially if we got [deep in the playoffs]," he said. "The only thing is [whether we were] going to run out of time and not be able to get me any starts in. Fortunately, the process went quickly. And as we started to press, we all decided that there was going to be a chance, so why not? And I'm fortunate to have this opportunity again."
So Carpenter is yet again setting an example in the Cardinals' clubhouse.
"He's a competitor like I've never seen," Matheny said. "The guy just finds a different gear when it becomes his turn to do something special. That's why we were so excited as we watched him throw a couple of [bullpen sessions], just the thought of down the stretch, what he would mean to us. And it proved itself true -- not just with what he was doing on the mound."
Carpenter relishes that chance to compete, to play for a ring once again. But he also treasures the chance to pass along the lessons he's learned, and to help the Cards' cadre of young pitchers become what they have the chance to be. Clemens and Hentgen, Morris and Williams passed it to him. Now Carpenter is handing things down to pitchers like Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal.
"My presence has changed, because I'm the only one left," Carpenter said. "So it's definitely changed. I feel like I'm a St. Louis Cardinal. I feel like I always will be in the organization and the clubhouse, the team, I love it all and I enjoy being in there, and I think my presence has changed a lot just because I've been here that long."