This is the end of the line for Chris Carpenter.
Somebody did an incredible job covering up the reality of his injury/injuries, because while there was plenty of substantial worry about his health going into 2013, the general assumption that he’d be ready to go made today’s short-notice press conference all the more shocking.
I’ll get to the implications in a minute since there seems to be a lot of confusion around what will happen with the roatation now that the presumed number two starter is done. But first it’s important to remember what Carpenter was; and what he was was better displayed in Game Five of the 2011 NLDS than at any other time.
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It’s cliche, but this really was a series that the Cardinals had no business winning. The Phillies that year were lauded for having one of the greatest rotations in the history of the Game, and leading the line was Roy Halladay, who got the start for the deciding game.
Facing him was Carp. He was the honorary ace that year, but only because Adam Wainwright had had Tommy John surgery and only because his reputation preceded Kyle Lohse‘s, who was the team’s best starter that year.
Carpenter was a rugged 35, still solid but not as dominant as he had once been in his Cy Young-contending days. On that night of October 7, 2011, he would be facing his friend and rival, 34-year-old Hallday, with everything on the line.
Halladay was a stone wall for the next seven innings, but Carp even more so. The Philadelphia lineup was loaded: Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Hunter Pence, Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, Raul Ibanez and Carlos Ruiz all in consecutive order. And as Carp watched his hitters get mowed down by a regrouped Halladay, it was up to him to hold the line.
And hold it he did. Inning after inning, Carp slaughtered the vaunted lineup. Halladay would throw up a zero, but Carp would come back and do the same, never letting a single runner make it as far as third base.
At the end of the night, there still stood Chris Carpenter, who got Ryan Howard to ground out to second to end the game. He was far from the best pitcher that year. He wasn’t better than Halladay. But he went out and did the job that night; and by the end of it there was no one else you’d rather have out there.
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There’s been a lot of understandable lamenting by Cardinal Nation today, from myself included. Carp was my favorite Cardinal more because of his visible competitive fire than anything else. However, it’s important to note that as bad as it appears, this news doesn’t sink the Cardinals.
In fact, they might even get better. Optimistically, what was the projected ERA of a 38-year-old Chris Carpenter? 3.75-ish? Won’t his replacement be able to do better than that?
Which brings me to my second point: That replacement will not be Kyle Lohse or anyone from the outside. Owner Bill DeWitt made a minor payroll expansion of $1-5 million a year sound extreme. It isn’t realistic to think he’s be open to bringing aboard Lohse for an extra $14 or so.
I think one drawback to Chris Carpenter’s reputation was that he made us think veteran presence is a requirement. Yet every year, we see guys with zero Major League experience have fantastic seasons while old men crumble. Talent should be the sole focus, with experience being a happy bonus. And talent is what all four of those guys have displayed in the Majors ever since they got there.
As much as it sucks that Carp is gone, the Cards will be fine, probably even better than they were going to be with him. Today we remember and give thanks, tomorrow we look to a new era dominated by new, home-grown Carpenters that are here now or waiting their turn.