Chris Carpenter was one of the finest pitchers to ever wear the Birds on the Bat. He won a Cy Young in 2005, was a three-time All-Star, and won two World Series rings as a member of the Cardinals. For several years, he was the ace of the Cardinals starting rotation.
Sadly, injuries somewhat derailed his career and cost him significant time. He missed most of the 2007 and 2008 seasons and also started only three games in 2012 before thoracic outlet syndrome ended his career the following year.
Still, he was one of the greatest pitchers to ever wear the Cardinals uniform.
Carpenter was taken in the first round of the 1993 MLB Draft by the Blue Jays with the 15th overall pick. He made his Major League debut in 1997. However, he didn't click right away. In his first six seasons, he never posted an ERA below four.
Prior to the 2003 season, the Cardinals took a chance on him, signing him as a free agent. However, he missed the '03 season due to Tommy John surgery, but the Cardinals brought him back for 2004.
In '04, he became the ace of the staff, winning 15 games and posting a 3.46 ERA as he emerged as a frontline starter. Injuries remained an issue however, as an arm injury took him out for the rest of the '04 season and caused him to miss the postseason, though the Cardinals still reached the World Series.
The next year, he was finally healthy, and he showed the baseball world just what he was capable of, winning 21 games and earning his Cy Young Award as he helped guide the Cardinals to the NLCS. But this was only the beginning.
In 2006, he remained a steady force in the rotation and was a key piece in their run to their first World Series title since 1982. He even won Game 3 of that series against the Tigers, not going to a three-ball count once in his eight shutout innings.
Carpenter's playoff run
However, his most memorable moments came during the 2011 season. He had bounced back from injuries two years prior and re-emerged as a frontline piece in the Cardinals rotation. But the Cardinals needed a little more out of him in 2011, as Adam Wainwright was out for the year with Tommy John surgery.
The beginning of the year certainly wasn't pretty for Carpenter, but when the going got tough, the tough got going.
The Cardinals fell to 10.5 games back in the Wild Card race in late August. Desperate to turn things around, the veteran leaders on the team, including Carpenter, held a meeting to motivate their teammates and spark some resilience.
Sure enough, it worked. The Cardinals won 22 of their next 31 games and set him up to pitch the final game of the regular season in Houston. The veteran righty carved up a two-hit shutout as the Cardinals beat the Astros 8-0.
Hours later, the Braves lost to the Phillies, securing a spot in the postseason for the Cardinals. After a nightmare start in Game 2 against the Phillies in the NLDS, Carpenter had a chance at redemption in Game 5 as he faced off against his close friend in the late Roy Halladay.
It was a pitcher's duel for the ages, but Carpenter came out on top. The Cardinals scored just one run, but that was all Carpenter needed to complete another shutout and send the Cardinals to the NLCS.
Weeks later, the Cardinals found themselves in the World Series for the first time since 2006, and Carpenter drew the start in Game 1. He earned the win and even made a nice diving play at first base to record an out early in the game.
He received a no-decision in Game 5 and the Cardinals returned home trailing the Rangers 3-2. But a little bit of luck came the Cardinals' way when Game 6 was pushed back a day due to rain. After they won Game 6 on David Freese's walk-off home run, they had a decision to make for Game 7.
They could go with Kyle Lohse or Edwin Jackson on full rest, or squeeze one more start out of their ace. They chose the latter.
And true to form, Carpenter threw a gem. He got off to a bad start, allowing the Rangers to take a 2-0 lead. But St. Louis kept fighting, and when Allen Craig put them ahead with a solo shot in the third, the right-hander began to settle in. He would make it into the seventh inning before his night was done. Craig helped him out a little when he robbed Nelson Cruz of a home run.
The bullpen made the runs stand up, and the Cardinals completed their amazing comeback journey. Without Carpenter, none of it would have been possible.
Five years later, Carpenter was inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame. In nine years with the team, he won 95 games and had an ERA of 3.07, with some truly remarkable postseason moments sprinkled in.