ST. LOUIS -- Chris Carpenter, one of the best clutch pitchers in the storied history of the St. Louis Cardinals, may have thrown his final pitch.
General manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny announced Tuesday that Carpenter almost certainly won't pitch in 2013 and that his star-crossed career is probably over after a recurrence of a nerve injury that cost him most of last season. Carpenter did not attend, and Mozeliak said the emotions for the 37-year-old were still too raw.
Retirement isn't official yet. Carpenter plans to seek further medical evaluation. But Mozeliak seemed resigned to losing him.
"He's leaving the door slightly open, but it's unlikely," Mozeliak said of Carpenter's return.
Carpenter's career numbers don't reflect his value to the team. He is 144-94 with a 3.76 ERA in a career that began in Toronto in 1997. He spent six seasons with the Blue Jays and nine in St. Louis. He won the 2005 NL Cy Young Award, going 21-5 with a 2.83 ERA, and was second in 2009 after going 17-4 with a 2.24 ERA.
More telling are his postseason results, including a 10-4 record and 3.00 ERA in 18 starts. There were the eight innings of three-hit shutout baseball in a Game 3 World Series win over Detroit in 2006, a series the Cardinals won in five games; a 1-0 shutout to beat Roy Halladay in Philadelphia in the deciding game of the 2011 NL Division Series; and the gutty Game 7 World Series-clinching win over Texas on three days' rest in 2011.
His career is all the more remarkable considering the amount of time he spent on the disabled list due to various shoulder, elbow and nerve injuries. He missed most of 2002, all of 2003, most of 2007 and 2008, and then last year's season that was limited to three regular-season starts.
I know there are a few other Cardinals fans on this board who will share in my sadness. It's not necessarily that the Cards can't cope with it, I think they will be fine, but man it sucks (but is unfortunately fitting, given how much time he spent on the disabled list in his career) to see Carpenter go out this way. Now I kind of wish he hadn't tried that comeback at the end of 2012, so that game seven of the 2011 World Series would be his last start.
Chris Carpenter was just as much the face of the Cards' past decade of excellence as Albert Pujols was, in my opinion. I'm going to miss his intensity. Here's David Schoenfield at ESPN running down Carpenter's top moments:
If this is the end for Chris Carpenter, as it appears it is, I can only tip my cap to one of the most memorable pitchers of the past decade. And one of the best. Five things that come to mind from his impressive career:
1. Outdueling Roy Halladay in the 2011 playoffs. The Cardinals had made a miracle run to reach the playoffs. They faced the 102-win Phillies in the Division Series and it came down to the final game, Carpenter against Halladay. Halladay was brilliant, going eight innings and allowing only a first-inning run. Carpenter was better, throwing a three-hit shutout, the first by a Cardinals pitcher in the postseason since Danny Cox in 1987. Go to your closer with a one-run lead? Not on that night. Ride your big guy.
2. Game 7 of the 2011 World Series. After leading the National League in innings pitched during the season and then starting five more games in the postseason, Carpenter was running on fumes, but Tony La Russa went with his veteran right-hander on three days of rest -- a start made possible because of a rainout between Games 5 and 6. Carpenter gave up two runs in the top of the first and who knows what would have happened if Ian Kinsler hadn't been picked off first base. But Carpenter gritted it out from there with five scoreless innings. He won the game -- he was 4-0 in six playoff starts -- and for the second time was the ace of a World Series champion.
3. His 2004 comeback season. After missing all of 2003 following labrum surgery, Carpenter's career was in jeopardy. The Blue Jays offered him only a minor league contract and the Cardinals took a chance. He rewarded them by going 15-5 with a 3.46 ERA, but a nerve problem in his biceps forced him to miss the postseason. Who knows; if Carpenter is healthy, maybe the Red Sox don't end the curse. The next season, Carpenter won the Cy Young Award.
4. His last victory. After missing nearly all of 2012, Carpenter returned to make three starts -- going 0-2. Mike Matheny had him in the postseason rotation anyway. He beat the Nationals in Game 3 of the Division Series, pitching on guts and instinct and who knows how much pain. Maybe the Cards should have stopped there. His last two games weren't vintage Carpenter and he lost twice in the NLCS, allowing five runs in four innings in both outings.
5. One of the greatest Cardinals pitchers. For a franchise with a storied history, they've had few long-term great starters other than Bob Gibson. Dizzy Dean had his short run of brilliance in the 1930s and Jesse Haines won 210 games and lucked into the Hall of Fame, but add Carpenter to that short list of Cardinals pitchers who came up big when it most counted -- Harry Brecheen and Mort Cooper and Max Lanier and, yes, Gibson.
Sad to see Carpenter hang up the glove, but man, what a tremendous career. It's unfortunate that the Blue Jays let him go, though you can argue Carpenter wouldn't have found the success he did if he hadn't gone to St. Louis and worked with Dave Duncan.
"It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone." --- Bart Giamatti, on baseball
Oddly enough, a buddy of mine in the radio biz (who just got hitched...the fool!) relayed to me a funny story about that '83 Lee Elia tirade. Back then, he worked for a station that carried Cubs games.