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Carpenter no stranger to high-pressure spots

ST. LOUIS -- After several comeback attempts this year, Chris Carpenter now sits fewer than 24 hours away from returning to the mound for the first time since leading the Cardinals to a Game 7 win in last year's World Series.

Carpenter underwent what was believed to be season-ending surgery in July to address thoracic outlet syndrome, which led the right-hander to experience numbness and weakness in his right shoulder, arm and neck during Spring Training. But he'll start on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field as the Cardinals open a six-game road trip, their last of the regular season. The right-hander leaps right into a pennant race, too, as St. Louis entered Thursday with only a two-game cushion for the second National League Wild Card spot.

"I've pitched in plenty of games that have mattered, so I'm going out there with the same focus, the same program, and that's to mentally and physically prepare to get outs and give us a chance to win," Carpenter said. "Hopefully, I can help us get going on a little push and that we can put a little run together here."

The Cardinals have not publicly stated a pitch limit for Carpenter, though his workload will be closely monitored. He threw 95 pitches during a simulated game on Saturday.

Carpenter could make as many as three regular-season starts, and he would be available in the postseason should the Cardinals make it. No pitcher in franchise history has more playoff wins than Carpenter, who has a 9-2 postseason record.

"I'm excited to watch him pitch," manager Mike Matheny said. "The expectations are he goes out and does what Chris Carpenter does. I'm not expecting him to be Chris Carpenter of any specific year except right now."