Every time you get to pitch Opening Day, it is exciting. I don’t care if you’re 22 or 40. To do what we do and start the season, the excitement of starting the season and the excitement that comes to this ballclub and that stadium and the city when baseball season starts, it’s an exciting thing. I’m looking forward to it, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.
When the Cards take the field tomorrow after the numerous Opening Day celebration processions, walking out to the mound for the sixth time on opening day in his career will be Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter. While Cardinals fans would love to see Carp pitch against the Padres on Friday, they will have to settle for just one ace this year. Hey, at least they still have someone to call the ace of their pitching staff.
Carpenter will have high expectations riding on his shoulders as he enters the game on Friday. Anything less than 6-7 innings pitched and anything more than 3-4 ER just might tip this very delicate fan base over the edge, confirming everyone’s off-season nightmares. When you’re hurting for pitching, the last thing you want to see is your ace getting rocked on Opening Day.
Not only will Carp be under great scrutiny, but so will the entire Cardinals team. If the Cards don’t take at least 2 of 3 from the Padres, this team will look weak and feeble in the eyes of the fan base. And if pitching is the reason for Cardinals not taking the series, fans will be pulling their hair out.
The team knows these things. So does Chris Carpenter.
That’s why in this position, you’ve got to rely on a veteran guy like Carp to take the reigns, calm everyone down, and set the precedent for this pitching staff. He has a lot of experience under his belt.
And that includes some short-term experience to draw from. This past spring, the Cardinals ace has been in some tight spots. Take his last Grapefruit outing against the Marlins this past Saturday, for instance. The first three batters he faced resulted in a bases loaded, no out situation for the veteran. Yet, experience has taught Carp a valuable lesson–to stay poise when on the mound. The next batter popped-out, and on the ensuing batter Carp forced a double play. Talk about damage control. Here’s what the cool cucumber had to say about the outing.
It was great…leadoff guy gets a ball the other way, [Omar] Infante a hard line drive, Hanley [Ramirez] a little end-of-the-bat loop, and the next thing you know it’s bases loaded and it could be a big inning. But experience brings you to [realize], there’s nothing I can do but continue to make and execute pitches and try to stay out of a big inning. And I was able to do that with a popup and double play.
Carp went on to pitch six innings, giving up three runs on nine hits, striking out three and walking none. This outing is just the type of experience that Cards fans hope will continue to fuel Carp’s confidence.
You’ve got to love the guy’s stone-faced serious approach to pitching. For the sake of Cardinals nation, I sure hope the success of this mentality continues tomorrow and throughout the 2011 campaign.