Chris Carpenter will be remembered for two reasons that fall on complete opposite ends of the baseball spectrum and that rarely go hand in hand: success and injuries. But while the latter prohibited Carpenter from carving out a resume worthy of Cooperstown, the pitcher should take solace in what he did accomplish, because it’s far greater than even some Hall of Fame careers.
Whenever a player endures an injury plagued career, he’s viewed in one of two ways. He’s either seen as frail and injury prone, or he’s seen as the unfortunate victim of a lack of luck. If Carpenter’s recent injury setback does spell the end of his big league career, which is a very real possibility, no one should look back with anything but admiration.
Time and time again, Carpenter picked himself up off the mat, and he amazingly put together a very impressive career, something that so often seemed like an unattainable goal. Carpenter was a middling major leaguer during his early years in Toronto before a change of scenery, which so often can alter one’s career path, sent him in the right direction.
Carpenter, whose injury woes and lack of consistency with the Blue Jays led to a 49-50 record, a 4.83 ERA and a one-way ticket out of town, arrived in St. Louis with a chip on his shoulder. The new home didn’t mean an easier road for Carpenter, but it proved to be a more fruitful one.
Carpenter sat out all of 2003 because of a shoulder issue after being signed by the Cardinals. Fortunately for the Cards, Band-Aids and pain killers weren’t going to be enough to derail Carpenter’s career, as the former first-round pick finally started to display his immense potential with a 15-win campaign in 2004. In the two years following that, Carpenter gained a reputation as one of the best pitchers in baseball, winning 21 games and a Cy Young award in 2005 and winning his first World Series title in 2006.
While 2007 and 2008 marked another unfortunate tumble in the wrong direction, with the 6-foot-6 righty making just five appearances during that period, the chip on his shoulder proved to be a driving force, and Carpenter once again established himself as a bona fide ace from 2009 to 2011.
It’s rare that you a see a player get hit with such adversity and stand his ground. It’s even rarer that a player gets dealt vicious blow after vicious blow and responds by throwing back haymaker after haymaker of his own. Yet Carpenter went toe to toe with each opponent he encountered, which more often than not was a nagging injury.
Carpenter is 10-4 with a 3.00 ERA in postseason play, and is widely considered one of the best playoff pitchers of all time. Not only are the numbers good looking, but he also has the iconic moments to go with them.
Carpenter pitched eight shutout innings against the Tigers in Game 3 of the 2006 World Series. He tossed six solid frames in Game 7 of the 2011 Fall Classic on three days’ rest. And who could forget his complete-game shutout over Roy Halladay and the Phillies in a decisive Game 5 in enemy territory in the 2011 NLDS?
But one moment that stands out came during last season’s NLDS against the Nationals. Carpenter pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings to help put St. Louis up 2-1 in the series, just months after Carpenter’s season was once again thought to be over because of an injury. It wasn’t a beautiful performance by any means, and in the grand scheme of things, it was far from his most important one. However, it symbolized exactly what Carpenter’s career has been all about.
Has it been a pretty career for Carpenter? Nope. In fact, few have been uglier. But it’s better to come away from the fight a bruised and bloodied winner than as someone who wasn’t even willing to come out of the corner for Round 2.