Cards have had string of injured hurlers turn into supporters
Martinez is latest sidelined pitcher left to root on St. Louis in postseason
Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez, who is finished for the season with an injured right shoulder, says he will be "in the dugout rooting our guys on and doing all I can to help to get us as far as possible in the playoffs."
They are familiar words to Cards fans. Just as St. Louis has a tradition of playing beyond the regular season -- 12 out of 16 possible postseasons in this millennium, including 2015 -- it also has a daunting tradition of key pitchers becoming October cheerleaders.
In fairness, "cheerleaders" is probably less apropos than "team leaders." Over the past decade-plus, a series of these pitchers have embraced their reluctant role and made a difference through their continued presence. Call it the Carp Factor, after Chris Carpenter, the pitcher who started the tradition. Here is a look at where Martinez fits in with the recent history:
The right-hander came back from right elbow surgery to go 15-5 and help St. Louis to 105 victories, its most since 1944. On Sept. 18, the day the Cardinals clinched a postseason berth, Carpenter felt a twinge in his right biceps and left in the fourth inning. The nerve condition ended his season, and he rooted in the Cards' dugout through October, including the four-game loss to Boston in the World Series. Carpenter won the National League Cy Young Award the next season. "He's got a good head, good heart, good guts," then-manager Tony La Russa said.
2006: Mark Mulder
After a banner first season in St. Louis with 16 wins in 2005, Mulder started the '06 season strong. But he went on the disabled list in June, came back and was rocked in two August starts, and then was relegated to cheerleader as Carpenter and rookie closer Adam Wainwright led the Cardinals to the World Series championship, as St. Louis defeated Detroit in five games.
The converted closer was third in NL Cy Young Award voting in 2009 and second in '10, and he was a good bet to win it in '11. He experienced discomfort in his right elbow during that Spring Training, and he underwent Tommy John surgery, missing the entire season. Wainwright's presence as a dugout leader was vivid as Carpenter and the Cards proceeded to win their 11th World Series championship, beating the Rangers in seven games in the Fall Classic.
"I realized if I was going to stick around the team, I needed to be a positive influence," Wainwright said. "It was a priority for me to be there, and to be there in a positive light. ... Plus, I got to be there and watch all those great baseball games."
2012: Jaime Garcia
The left-hander bowed out of St. Louis' postseason picture in 2012 after pitching just two innings in Game 2 of the NL Division Series against the Nationals. A left shoulder injury kept Garcia out the remainder of the postseason.
Carpenter tried to make a return from thoracic outlet surgery during the summer of 2013, but to no avail. He watched the Cardinals' 2013 postseason run from the dugout, making a contribution just by his continued presence, and then he retired after the World Series, which Boston won over St. Louis in six games.
2014: Michael Wacha
After blossoming as a rookie in 2013 and leading the Cards into the World Series against the Red Sox -- winning NL Championship Series MVP honors in the process -- Wacha was guaranteed a rotation spot in '14. But in June, the right-hander was diagnosed with a stress reaction in the scapula behind his throwing arm.
Wacha pitched in four September games, was kept out of the Cardinals' NLDS rotation, then was carried on the NLCS roster and finally used once in relief -- giving up the fateful three-run homer to Travis Ishikawa in Game 5 against the Giants. Wacha's situation was different from some on this list in that they knew they were not going to pitch any longer that season. He was in a perpetual wait, but along the way, he was still a key pitcher turned cheerleader.
This brings us to Martinez, who was a catalyst for the Cards all season. He exited his start last Friday against Milwaukee after seven pitches, and then the club announced that he will miss the rest of the season due to a right shoulder strain. Now that the club has clinched a postseason berth again, it means Martinez will be a dugout cheerleader for at least the NLDS.
Meanwhile, Wainwright could finally be back in a bullpen role by that point. With Wacha and Garcia also back, it means the Cardinals will be chock-full of those who have carried on the Carp Factor tradition.
"Our team is prepared for anything. Our clubhouse has much more to accomplish," Martinez wrote on his blog. "We are a group of grinders on a mission and won't stop grinding until our final out."