Chris Carpenter padded his postseason resume on Wednesday by grinding out 5 2/3 scoreless innings while securing a victory for the Cardinals, who jumped out to a 2-1 NLDS series lead over the heavily favored Nationals. It wasn't the most lights-out we've ever seen Carpenter, and the start could merely be a blip on a resume that includes three All-Star selections, two World Series titles and a Cy Young, but it shows the stark contrast that exists between the two teams that battled in front of a sold-out Nationals Park crowd.
FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports that an anonymous player on the Nationals told him on Tuesday, "If we had 'Stras, we'd be up 2-0" — a reference to Washington's decision to shut down ace Stephen Strasburg upon the right-hander reaching his team-imposed innings limit. Clearly, if Rosenthal's report is accurate, there's an overriding distraction that could be hindering the Nationals, who entered this postseason with the National League's best record, but also with minimal postseason experience.
On the other side, however, the Cardinals — while maybe not directly — seemed to say, "Well, we have Carp, so we're going up 2-1."
Following his gritty performance on Wednesday, Carpenter is now 10-2 with a 2.88 ERA in 16 career postseason starts. Even more impressive is the immense pressure under which Carpenter has thrived. From his eight shutout innings against the Tigers in Game 3 of the 2006 World Series, to his six solid frames in Game 7 of last year's Fall Classic on three days' rest, to his complete-game shutout over Roy Halladay and the Phillies in a decisive Game 5 in enemy territory in the NLDS last season, Carpenter has always asked for the ball, taken the ball and given the Cardinals exactly what they've needed.
Wednesday was no different in that regard — only Wednesday's performance is incredible when you consider Carpenter's season was once assumed to be over. The righty underwent surgery to repair a nerve issue, and many dubbed it to be of the "season-ending" variety. Yet Carpenter did as Carpenter does, and the veteran tackled his rehab head on in order to return to help his team when the games really start to matter.
It would have been easy for Cardinals players to completely write off Carpenter for this season, considering the miraculous recovery he needed to go through before returning to the mound down the stretch and into the postseason. But it's not surprising that many probably expected not only a return, but an impactful return.
"I think if you knew Chris Carpenter, you wouldn't call it a miracle," teammate Adam Wainwright said before Wednesday's game, according to ESPN.com.
Regardless of whether it's a miracle, watching a 37-year-old take the mound after recovering from surgery this season while a perfectly healthy 24-year-old phenom — who underwent surgery last season — rests has to be difficult for Nationals fans to swallow. Strasburg would love to be pitching right now, but the Nats felt it was best to proceed with the future in mind. The only problem is that, as we've seen this season perhaps more than any other in recent memory, success isn't guaranteed from one year to the next.
The future sure looks bright in the nation's capital, but the present is brighter in The Lou. Chris Carpenter is a big reason why.
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