Chris Carpenter was a force on the hill until June 28 when he was hit in the forearm by a line drive. He was 9-1 with a 2.63 ERA and well on his way to another Cy Young worthy season. Since the stroke of bad luck though, the loss column and ERA grew, while the win column remained stuck in neutral.
And so goes the story for Carpenter. It’s a story that we’ve seen before for the Cards ace. This season has been a microcosm of his career in St. Louis.
Spectacular when he’s healthy. But health has always been a concern. Injuries prevented him from pitching in 2007 and 2008 when the Chicago Cubs rose to prominence in the division. Before that Carpenter went 51-18 from 2004-2006, made two All-Star appearances, and won a Cy Young. Since he returned full-time and healthy in 2009, Carp is 26-7. He finished second in Cy Young voting last year.
And he is an All-Star this year for the third time in his career. [...]
His smooth start made him a clear pick to join the NL’s best in the Year of the Pitcher 2.0. Carpenter was mowing down hitters with his hard fastball and effective curve. But his torrid start was interrupted after taking a liner off his arm at the end of June.
Carpenter lost his command and his record fell to 9-3. His ERA jumped to 3.29. Something wasn’t right. Whispers about injury floated over his struggles. But Carpenter never conceded. He continued to take his turn in the rotation to do his job. The competitor in Carpenter wouldn’t allow excuses and weakness to hinder his commitment to the team and winning.
But the threat is always looming. An ultra-competitive player like Carpenter never wants to let his team down. He’ll never complain of injury if he can walk to that mound even if he knows something’s wrong.
All-Star second baseman Chase Utley has a similar make-up to Carpenter. Utley won’t play in the game because a thumb injury has him out for eight weeks. Utley has other plans, though. The hard-nosed Phillies star hopes to return in six weeks. He is determined to. His team needs him.
While Carpenter isn’t hurt, his current situation is one Utley is familiar with.
Whenever things are going wrong for No. 26 in Philadelphia, the media and the fans immediately begin to wonder, whisper about injury. Utley has to be hurt, they say, he’s too good to be struggling. The Phillies have heard plenty of whispers in 2010 as they can’t seem to find an identity while the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets sit atop the division.
Everyone on the Phillies has been in a rut this year, including Utley.
The sweet-swinging lefty’s problems were mechanical. Utley is a nut when it comes to preparation. He studies hours of film and takes hours of batting practice before every game. He expects a lot from himself. And the perfectionist puts a lot of pressure on himself to perform – to be perfect.
And sometimes in the grind of the season, the hyper-focused routine becomes draining physically and mentally. Especially mentally. Utley thinks too much and begins to look uncomfortable at the plate. And the slumps begin and the pressure only gets greater.
Chris Carpenter is going through the same thing right now. He is uncomfortable on the mound. He’s in a slump and he’s unhappy with his performance. Carpenter works so hard every season and holds himself to such high standards that a little burnout is bound to set in.
He demands that he is the best every time he toes the rubber. His fiery disposition is what makes him great. We’ve all seen it over the years. His competitive fire burns hotter and deeper than other players. He wants it so bad. And when he’s losing, it eats at him every day until he gets the chance to erase the memory with a win.
Carpenter will find his way. The wins will pile up again before season’s end and the pain of losing will go away.
He is a warrior of this game. And the pain of injury – of being helpless – hurts a lot more than the pain of losing. A loss is only around for five days. It serves as motivation. And the challenge to prove you’re still a winner the next time out is too great to ignore.
Chris Carpenter is a winner. And that’s why he’ll be in Los Angeles with the rest of baseball’s All-Stars.