Carpenter's HR streak fueled by secret salsa

First baseman is 28th in MLB history to homer in 6 straight games

July 21st, 2018

CHICAGO -- Matt Carpenter was stuck in the worst offensive funk of his career when, after a mid-May road trip, he returned home to find part of his backyard repurposed into a garden. It was a gift from teammate and avid gardener , who planted a variety of fruits and vegetables for Carpenter to cook and can.

It was with those ingredients that Carpenter started making homemade salsa, a culinary favorite of the corner infielder. He'd use it with chips, he'd put it on eggs, and, this week, for the first time, Carpenter took it on the road.

With that salsa as sustenance, he's having a series for the ages.

Carpenter elbowed his way further into the record books on Saturday with home runs in both ends of a doubleheader the Cardinals split with the Cubs at Wrigley Field. That extended Carpenter's home run streak to six consecutive games, tying a franchise record Mark McGwire once set. Carpenter, however, is the only Cardinal to achieve the feat in a single season.

Most consecutive games with a home run

"Maybe it's the salsa?" Carpenter shrugged after the team's 6-3, Game 2 win. "I don't know. But I'm going to keep eating it for sure."

Once the garden bloomed, so did Carpenter.

His stunning season turnaround has hit a crescendo coming out of the All-Star break. On Friday, he became the second player in Major League history with a three-homer, two-double game. By Saturday, he stood as the only player to ever hit six home runs in a series at Wrigley Field. There's one game left to be played this weekend, too.

Interim manager Mike Shildt described Carpenter as "hotter than a firecracker." Cubs manager Joe Maddon compared his tear to the one the Cubs endured in the 2015 National League Championship Series, when the Mets' hit .529 with four home runs.

Carpenter has eight homers in 12 games against the Cubs this year. That's the most by a Cardinals player against their division rival since Jim Edmonds and each hit eight in 2004.

"It's really hard to put into words what is happening," said Carpenter, who has a .761 slugging percentage and 1.202 OPS over his past 58 games. "I've felt like this before, in the sense that I feel comfortable at the plate and I'm swinging at good pitches and my swing feels like it's where it needs to be. Obviously, I've never had a stretch like this. It's hard to put into words."

It's also hard to find comparable history. Before Carpenter, only 27 players had homered in six straight games. was the last to do so (August 2017), and McGwire did it over the course of two seasons (1997-98). The record for consecutive games with a homer is eight, done by three players: Ken Griffey Jr. (Mariners, July 20-28, 1993), Don Mattingly (Yankees, July 8-18, 1987) and Dale Long (Pirates, May 19-28, 1956).

He's the first Cardinal since Pujols (Sept. 3-5, 2006) with five homers in a three-game span. The last Cardinal to go deep five times in two days was Stan Musial, who famously hit five in a 1954 doubleheader. It last happened elsewhere in 2016, when tallied five homers from May 31-June 1.

Each of Carpenter's last 12 hits have been for extra bases, also a Cardinals record. The only other player to have eight homers and three doubles over a six-game span is Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner in 1947.

"You talk about locked in. That's what it looks like," Shildt said. "Glad he plays for us."

The bat Carpenter has been using all series will eventually be headed to the Hall of Fame … but not until after it breaks.

"I'm still using it right now," Carpenter confirmed.

Carpenter had all sorts of factors working against him as he pursued history on Saturday. Winds whipping in from center field added a degree of difficulty, as several players watched balls die on the warning track. That included a first-inning laser by that, based on its exit velocity and launch angle, is a home run 92 percent of the time.

Furthermore, Carpenter didn't make his first plate appearance in Game 2 until the seventh inning. Double-switched into the game for defensive purposes, Carpenter stung a solo homer that pulled the Cardinals to within one. He later opened the three-run ninth with a walk, putting him on base for the 12th time in the series.

By the end of a long day at Wrigley Field, Carpenter's now famed salsa was making its way through the clubhouse. jokingly credited it for aiding in the conversion of his 18th save. Carpenter has started fielding requests for cans, too.

The recipe will remain a secret "in case I ever go into business," Carpenter said, though he did divulge that it's not too chunky and a bit on the sweet side. Oh, and he's packed plenty to get him through the rest of the trip.

"Now it's becoming a thing," Carpenter said. "I'm going to keep eating it until it stops happening."