The St. Louis Cardinals are world champions. Even a couple hours after the fact, it still doesn’t feel real. This team has been on the brink of elimination for two months. They fought tooth and nail to keep their season alive since the end of August. I almost feel like the only thing to do is write yet another recitation of their struggles, their comebacks and improbably successes. But that’s fairly well covered. I’ve already seen several other bloggers handle this better than I could, and I already tried when they slipped into the postseason four weeks ago.
Instead, I want to talk about a specific player. I’m not sure I’ve ever spent much time on this blog discussing Chris Carpenter and that’s a damn shame. David Freese might be getting all the headlines. He was rightfully the NLCS and WS MVP. His incredible and improbable postseason cannot be ignored. But Chris Carpenter is the reason the St. Louis Cardinals are World Champs.
Before tonight, the Cardinals had already faced three must-win games. Game 162 of the regular season. Game 5 of the NLDS. Game 6 of the World Series. Chris Carpenter threw complete game shutouts in two of these games. That’s why no sane Cardinal fan questioned who would pitch Game 7 of the World Series. Carpenter wasn’t sharp on three days rest before, but that didn’t matter. You don’t fall behind in Game 7 with Chris Carpenter sitting in the bullpen.
I’ll admit, there were several times I thought Carpenter should have been pulled. I wanted Lohse to warm up in the first inning after the Rangers jumped on Carpenter’s flagging fastball and hanging curves. I thought he should have been pulled for a pinch hitter in the fourth inning when the Cardinals had two runners in scoring position. I wasn’t sure he should have started the top of the sixth. I certainly threw a fit when he batted for himself to lead off the bottom of the sixth. He looked gassed the entire game. He looked sore and broken; I was just waiting for the Rangers potent lineup to get to him.
After the NLCS, we learned that Carpenter was beginning to feel elbow soreness and there were questions about his availability for game 1 of the World Series. Carpenter denied that anything was wrong. But anyone who pays close attention knew the truth. Chris Carpenter is 36 years old. He’s had so many arm surgeries that the next one is free. He threw for more innings than anyone in the National League. The speed and movement on his pitches were down from his shutout against Philadelphia. He was laboring.
Even then, he started game 1. He started game 5. And thanks to a postponement, he started game 7. He pitched nineteen innings in ten days. It didn’t matter that his arm was hurting. It didn’t matter that he was aging or that his arm was held together with various ligaments from various other parts of his body. He kept going. He kept pitching.
I would not be surprised to find out that Chris Carpenter was playing through a serious injury. But this isn’t supposed to be a pessimistic post. Right now is no time to worry about what might be revealed by some MRI in the future. That’s not the point of this. The point is that we should all appreciate what Chris Carpenter did.
At age 36
After shoulder surgery, Tommy John surgery, and a tear in his oblique
After throwing the most innings in the NL
After throwing the most innings in his career
After starting two games in the World Series already
On three days rest
With a sore arm
With sketchy command and a weak curveball…
Chris Carpenter held the potent Texas Rangers to two runs in six innings and won game seven of the World Series.
This should not be forgotten, no matter how compelling David Freese’s RBIs and Albert Pujols’s impending free agency might be.