Pitching looks easy when Chris Carpenter is on the mound. He works fast, throws strikes, and dares hitters to swing at his best stuff. It wasn’t always this simple, however. Chris went from blue-chip prospect to the worst pitcher in baseball in three short seasons, as elbow and shoulder injuries pushed his career to the brink. Now the ace of the winningest team in the National League, he is living proof that, given time, the cream can indeed rise to the top. This is his story…

GROWING UP

Christopher John Carpenter was born on April 27, 1975 in Exeter, New Hampshire. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) His father Bob worked for the electric company, while his mom Penny was comptroller for a car dealership. The Carpenters lived in Raymond, near the picturesque town of Manchester. Chris towered over children his age and was quicker and stronger, too.

There were two loves in Chris’s early life, hockey and baseball. He would have played football as well, but he was too big by the time he was old enough for Pop Warner. Chris was one of those kids who could throw the ball with amazing velocity at an early age. He was dominating 12-year-olds in Little League at age eight, and by age 15, he was shutting down hitters in American Legion ball.

The summer after his sophomore year at Trinity High School, Chris was invited to compete in a tournament in Brockton, Massachusetts. When he and his dad showed up, they were dismayed to find that most of the players were college juniors and seniors. Those feelings didn’t last long. Chris pitched his way to the tourney’s MVP award, and from that point on there were scouts in the stands for every one of his starts.

New Hampshire isn’t exactly a baseball hotbed. The state’s short baseball season certainly was not conducive to developing pitchers. Carlton Fisk was its most famous product, but Indeed, Mike Flanagan, a star for the Baltimore Orioles in the 1970s, was the first top hurler to come out of New Hampshire. Hockey is a far more popular sport.

At 16, Chris made All-State on the ice as a defenseman for Trinity. Scouts from the Chicago Black Hawks and Boston Bruins were putting out feelers on whether he wanted to pursue a junior hockey career. By that time, however, Chris, who now stood 6-6, had made up his mind he was better suited for the baseball diamond. He still made All-State in hockey as a junior and senior, however.

Chris finished his senior season for Trinity and was drafted in the first round by the Toronto Blue Jays, who used the 15th overall pick to get him. This was quite a thrill—coming off a World Series championship, the Jays were headed for another one that fall. It took a while to work out a contract, and everyone agreed that Chris would start his minor-league career the following spring.

ON THE RISE

Chris began his pro career with the Medicine Hat Jays of the short-season Pioneer League in 1994. In his debut against the Great Falls Dodgers, he tossed six scoreless innings of one-hit ball, fanning nine along the way. Chris ended the year with a mark of 6-3 and turned in the league’s third-lowest ERA. He was also picked as the PL’s #3 prospect by league managers, behind Aaron Boone and Ray Brown.

Chris’s next stop was Dunedin, another short-season team, in 1995. He made 15 starts and gave up three or less runs in all but two. Chris then leap-frogged to Class-AA Knoxville and made 12 starts for manager Garth Iorg. He got cuffed around initially but settled down with a sub 3.00 ERA in his last seven starts.

The plan for 1996 was to give Chris a full year at Double-A. He spent the entire campaign with the Smokies, posting a 7-9 record and leading the club in innings pitched and strikeouts. In his nine losses, Chris gave up two runs or less five times.

The Toronto organization was very pleased with his progress at this point. In fact, The Blue Jays were beginning to think they had the beginnings of a great young staff. Midway through the year, Chris was joined in the Knoxville rotation by Kelvim Escobar. Meanwhile, Roy Halladay was having a big year at Dunedin.

The 1997 season found Chris knocking on the door of the majors as part of the rotation at Class-AAA Syracuse. On May 10, Chris got the call and two days later made his debut in a start against the Minnesota Twins. He was beaten soundly, 12-2. He appeared in two more games before being handed a ticket back to the minors.


 

 

 


Mike Flanagan, 1978 Topps

     
 

At the end of July, Chris was recalled and spent the rest of the year in Toronto’s starting rotation. The big club had three top pitchers in Roger Clemens, Woody Williams and Pat Hentgen, but from there the starting options thinned out. The New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles were dominating the AL East, so the Jays didn’t figure to be part of the Wild Card race. Chris would have two months to get a feel for pitching in the majors.

He got his first win against the Chicago White Sox in August. Later,he opened a lot of eyes with a shutout against the Anaheim Angels. Chris finished strong, posting one quality start after another, and ended his first major league season at a very respectable 3-3 with a 3.30 ERA.

The Blue Jays were ecstatic with their young gun. After getting pummeled early on, Chris adjusted not by throwing harder, but by calmly changing speeds and altering pitching patterns. He handled lefties with his cutter and fine-tuned his change-up to baffle righties. In his last five starts, he was throwing five different pitches for strikes.

The Blue Jays added Chris and Escobar to their rotation in May of 1998, and the team was transformed. From a last-place finish in ’97, they surged into Wild Card contention and finished just four games behind the Boston Red Sox with 88 victories. Chris went 12-7, including a four-hit shutout of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on July 4th. Once again, he finished strong, going 3-0 with a sub 3.00 ERA in September.

The 1999 Blue Jays had another winning season, despite some major offseason moves. Clemens had been traded to the Yankees for David Wells, who turned in a great year as the staff ace. Halladay joined the rotation later in the season, so Toronto finally had its own "Big Three" in place. That didn’t last long, however, as Chris began feeling pain in his right elbow in June. After a stint on the DL failed to relieve his discomfort, he was diagnosed with a bone spur in early September and went under the knife of Dr. James Andrews. Chris finished the year with a 9-8 record in 24 starts, though he got knocked around at times. In 150 innings, he gave up 177 hits.

The team expected Chris to make a full comeback in 2000, but his elbow began barking again in spring training. In a preseason game, his agony was compounded when he took a line drive off that same elbow. Chris refused to go on the DL and tried to pitch through his problems. He made 34 starts, but most of them were pretty ugly. He still had his 95 mph fastball, but the pain in his elbow prevented him from getting the breaks he needed on his off-speed stuff, and his change-up completely vanished on him.

The result was a 6.26 ERA, plus he allowed a .496 slugging average and .396 on-base percentage. All three marks were by far the worst in the American League. Chris had a handful of good starts and left most of his bad ones early enough for the Jays to rally. He ended up 10-12, and Toronto finished a very respectable 83-79—just four games behind the Yankees in the AL East. The Jays had a powerful club led by Carlos Delgado, Tony Batista, Jose Cruz and Brad Fullmer. Chris knew that had he pitched better, the team probably could have been a playoff contender. His miserable season was capped off in September, when Jose Valentin lined a ball of his face.


Roger Clemens, 1998 SI for Kids
     
 

The Blue Jays dangled Chris in trade talks over the winter, but no one was willing to offer what they thought he was worth. As Toronto suspected, he righted his ship in 2001, tossing 215 solid innings with 11 wins and a 4.09 ERA. A weird seven-game losing streak in July and part of August kept his numbers down, but anyone who watched Chris pitch that year could see he was on his way back to top-of-the-rotation status. He was at his best with men in scoring position, yielding a meager .229 average to enemy batters.

The 2002 season promised to be an exciting one in Toronto. Halladay had rounded into form as a quality starter, Escobar had been converted to a closer, and the offense had become youth-driven, with the 30-year-old Delgado the oldest man in the lineup. Chris, anointed the Opening Day starter for the first time in his career, was being counted on to lead the team’s staff, but he suffered through an injury-plagued campaign. He hit the DL after his first start and made only a dozen more during the season. In August he was diagnosed with a torn labrum in his right shoulder and was shut down completely.

Chris had surgery to repair the injury in September. A month later, the team outrighted him to the minors, hoping he would accept the demotion. When he refused, he became a free agent. Chris signed with the St. Louis Cardinals for $300,000 in December. They believed he could return to form if given the proper amount of time to heal. Gord Ash, the former Toronto GM, agreed with this prognosis. He was working for the Brewers at this point and urged them to sign Chris before the Cardinals did. Milwaukee did not want to gamble the money.

Chris arrived at spring training hoping his shoulder was fully healed. St. Louis decided to DL him to start the year. In an April workout for Tony La Russa and Walt Jocketty, his fastball was exploding into the catcher’s mitt, and his curves and sliders were breaking beautifully. The next day, Chris’s shoulder was on fire. After shutting down for a couple of months, Chris went on rehab. He spent six weeks pitching in the minors with no improvement. The Cardinals told him to stop throwing, and he went in for a second operation on his shoulder to clean out scar tissue. Hopefully, this would be the final fix.

Chris threw without pain in spring training and began 2004 in the Cardinals' rotation, along with Matt Morris, Jeff Suppan, Woody Williams, and Jason Marquis. After two months, he was 7-1. He had become the team’s de-facto #1 starter. As he recaptured his full repertoire, Chris pitched even better over the next two months.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals were running away with the NL Central. A powerhouse club led by Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen, they topped the league in hits, runs and slugging. Chris got the least run support of any St. Louis pitcher, but he received enough to gain victories in 15 of his 20 decisions—good for second place in the league in winning percentage.

Chris was leading the Cardinals in ERA and strikeouts when his right biceps muscle became irritated in mid-September. This was not considered a serious injury, but it proved painful enough to keep him out of the postseason. Without Chris, the Cardinals barely survived the NLCS against the Houston Astros and were swept by the Red Sox in the World Series.

Chris was certified 100 percent healthy at the start of 2005. The Cardinals responded by signing him to a $13 million, two-year deal. He was criticized for not demanding more—which he almost certainly would have gotten from the Cards or another club. But Chris felt that this was the team that had stuck with him, and he owed them.

MAKING HIS MARK


Chris Carpenter, 2000 Topps
     
 

Chris blossomed into the league’s most complete pitcher in 2005. After an April shellacking at the hands of the Philadelphia Phillies, he was almost untouchable until September. On April 21, Chris twirled a seven-hit shutout against his favorite victims, the Chicago Cubs. It was his first shutout since September of 2001.

From early June until early September, he strung together 22 quality starts in a row. At the All-Star break, Chris had 13 wins and was at or near the top of a dozen different NL pitching categories. When La Russa tabbed him to be the starter in the Midsummer Classic, it marked the first time a St. Louis pitcher had received this honor since Rick Wise in 1973.

On September 3, Chris beat the Astros 4-2 to become baseball’s first 20-game winner. It was his 10th straight road victory, marking the first time an NL hurler had put together a double-digit road winning streak since Bob Gibson in 1970. St. Louis fans were thinking Chris might have a shot at 25 victories, but he began to run out of gas in mid-September and three bad starts saw his ERA balloon by nearly a run. St. Louis, miles ahead of the pack, told him to rest up for the playoffs. Chris’s final stats were simply stunning. He went 21-5 with 213 strikeouts and a 2.85 ERA.

The Cardinals opened the playoffs in San Diego against the Padres. Chris got the starting call in Game 1 and was masterful, tossing six innings of shutout ball. St. Louis won 8-3. Mark Mulder and Morris followed up with two more quality starts, as the Cards completed a three-game sweep.

Up next were the Astros in the NLCS. It was a close, back-and-forth series that appeared to turn in the Cardinals’ favor after a dramatic win in Game 5. Pujols launched a mammoth home run off Brad Lidge in the ninth for a 5-4 victory that sent the teams back to St. Louis. But Roy Oswalt was on his game two nights later, and Houston took the series in six games.

Chris proved himself to be a clutch postseason performer against the Astros. He got the win in his Game 1 start, going eight strong innings along the way. In Game 5, he pitched well through seven innings, his only blemish being a three-run homer to Lance Berkman. Even though the Cards went home in disappointing fashion, they knew their club had a championship nucleus.

After the World Series, Chris got his first real taste of the national spotlight. The voting for the NL Cy Young was just about a no-brainer. At 21-5 with a 2.83 ERA and seven complete games, Chris was clearly his league’s best hurler. The Sporting News confirmed this by naming him the NL Pitcher of the Year.

St. Louis began the 2006 campaign eager to finish what they had started the year before. The batting order was anchored by Pujols and Rolen. David Eckstein provided a spark in the leadoff spot, and new addition Juan Encarcacion enjoyed his best year in the majors. Chris was again the ace of the staff, while Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan gave the club quality innings behind him. Jason Isringhasuen led a reliable bullpen for La Russa.

Still, the Cards struggled to play consistently. They finished the season at 83-78, which was somehow good enough to win the mediocre NL Central. The Cardinals traveled to San Diego to face the Padres in their Division Series. It was hard to know what to expect from St. Louis, especially after Isringhasuen went down with an injury and replaced with young Adam Wainwright as the closer.

Chris answered that question with a superb effort in Game 1. He handcuffed the Padres into the seventh and then turned things over to the bullpen. Wainwright looked confident in the ninth, and the Cards won 5-1. As the playoffs progressed, La Russa would rely on this formula again and again. That included Game 4 in St. Louis with Chris on the hill. After surrendering two runs in the first inning, he settled down and shut down the Padres. A four-run eighth gave the Cardinals a 6-2 lead, and Wainwright kept it safe. St. Louis advanced to face the Mew York Mets in the NLCS.

The teams split the first four games. Chris took the ball in Game 2 and didn’t have his best stuff. But the bullpen picked him up, and the Cardinals exploded for three runs in the ninth for a 9-6 victory. Chris also started Game 6, but John Maine was the star for the Mets. New York won 4-2 to force Game 7.

The finale was a nailbiter that featured great defense and clutch hitting in the late innings. Suppan was fantastic through six innings. Oliver Perez was just as good for the Mets. It appeared the Cardinals would break a 1-1 tie on a homer by Rolen, but Endy Chavez climbed the outfield fence and made a catch for the ages. In the ninth, Yadier Molina hit a two-run homer off Aaron Heilman for a 3-1 edge. Wainwright loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning, and then struck out Carlos Beltran looking to end the game. St. Louis was headed back to the World Series.

The Cards took on the resurgent Detroit Tigers in a rematch of the 1968 Fall Classic. This time St. Louis got revenge. The turning point of the series was Chris’s performance in Game 3. He blanked the Tigers over eight innings, giving up just three hits and striking out six. The Cards won 5-0 and never looked back. They closed out Detroit three nights later for the 10th championship in franchise history. Eckstein, who hit .364 in the five games, was named World Series MVP.


Chris Carpenter, 2005 Topps
     
 

For Chris, all the exctiement of the 2006 postseason soon became a distant memory. After his Opening Day start of 2007, he began feeling discomfort in his pitching elbow. In May, he had surgery to remove bone chips, but that was only the beginning of his problems. Two months later, the Cardinals announced that Chris required Tommy John surgery. He would be on the shelf for at least 12 months.

On July 30, 2008, Chris pitched in a big league game for the first time in more than a year. He went four innings agains the Braves and threw without any incident. Chris started two more games that summer and focused on getting ready for 2009.

The hard work paid off. Chris opened the ’09 campaign with a dominant outing against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He threw seven innings of one-hit ball and earned the 101st victory of his career. Similarly stupendous starts would follow.

Chris ended the year at 17-4 with 2.24 ERA. He had his control and velocity back, not to mention his confidence. In most seasons, he would have been a shoe-in for the Cy Young, but Tim Lincecum was better for the San Francisco Giants. Still, there were no more questions about Chris’s health or his ability to handle an ace’s workload.

Unfortunatley, the Cardinals ran into the hot Los Angeles Dodgers in the playoffs. Chris was hit hard in Game 1, a 5-3 loss in L.A. The Dodgers got a pair of well-pitched games after that and swept St. Louis.

2010 turned out to be an even more frustrating season for the Cardinals. Trailing Joey Votto and the Cincinnati Reds for a good part of the year, St. Louis missed the playoffs. The team had signed Matt Holliday to a long-term deal in the offseason, and then paired him with Pujols in the heart of the lineup. Chris and Wainwright headlined the starting rotation, combining for 36 wins between them. But it wasn’t enough.

Chris finished up at 16-9 with a 3.22 ERA. His 35 starts led the NL. He was named an All-Star for the third time in his career. But nothing generated more press for Chris than a bench-learing brawl between the Cardinals and Reds. At one point duing the fight, Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto got his hands on Chris and kicked him repeatedly. Chris would not soon forget the incident.

The 2011 campaign began on a sour note for Chris and the Cardinals. Through the first two months, he was 1-5 with an ERA well above 4.00. St. Louis was in a slump as well. Pujols, slated to be a free agent after the season, seemed to be pressing. Wainwright was sidelined for the year with an elbow injury.

Chris began to show signs of life in June. By the middle of the summer, he had his good stuff back. The same couldn’t be said of the Cards. The bullpen was unsettled, and outside of free-agent addition Lance Berkman, the offense was inconsistent. With the Milwaukee Brewers in control in the NL Central, it looked like another fall watching the playoffs from home.


Chris Carpenter, 2007 Heritage
     
 

But the Cardinals caught fire in September. Chris was a big part of the team’s turnaround. He wenth 3-0 during the month with a 2.15 ERA. His final start of the year was a 8-0 gem against the Astros. Chris threw a two-hitter and fanned 11. Amazingly, the Cards were going to the playoffs—as the NL’s hottest team.

La Russa handed the ball to Chris to open the Division Series in Philadelphia against the Phillies. Pitching on three days rest, he had nothing. The Phils chased him after three innings with a 4-3 lead. With Cliff Lee on the hill for Philly, St. Louis faced an uphill battle. But the Cardinals clawed for two more runs and escaped with a 5-4 victory. Chris learned an important lesson about working on short rest that would help him later in the postseason.

He got a chance to redeem himself in Game 5, throwing against his good buddy Roy Halladay. Chris took full advantage. In an overpowering performance, he posted a three-hit shutout. St. Louis plated a first-inning run against Halladay for the only score of the contest. The Cards returned to the NLCS with a heart-stopping 1-0 victory.

Agains the Brewers in the next round, St. Louis battled for a six-game series win. It was truly a team effort. David Freese took home MVP honors with an impressive display of power and clutch hitting. La Russa went to his bullpen early and often, never hesitating to yank a starter if things were getting out of hand.

Chris started Game 3 and lasted five innings without his best stuff. Still, he ptiched well enough to earn the win, 4-3. The Cardinals ended the series in Game 6 with an offensive explosion. They scored nine runs in the first three innings and rolled to an easy 12-6 victory. That set up a showdown with the Texas Rangers in the World Series.

game 1 featured a matchup of aces—Chris vesus C.J. Wilson. He enjoyed the night more than his Texas counterpart in 3-2 victory. The difference was a pinch-hit RBI single by Allen Craig.

The rest of the series was just as exciting. The Rangers won Game 2 with two runs in the ninth. Pujols blasted homers in three consecutive at-bats in a Game 3 rout by St. Louis. Texas rebounded to take the next two contests. It appeared the Rangers would claim their first championship in Game 6, but the Cards stole the momentum with a pair of late-inning rallies.

Chris took the mound for Game 7. Again pitching on short rest, he looked shaky in the first inning and surrendered two runs. The Rangers had him on the ropes in the second as well, but he wriggled out of trouble without any damage. That was the jolt of energy the Cardinals needed, They tacked on four runs over the next five innings, while Chris kept the Texas hitter off balance. He left the game after six innings with a 6-2 lead. La Russa leaned on his bullpen again and was rewarded with three scoreless innings. The Cardinals won their 11th World Series.

Chris has been at the top of his profession—and at the bottom of it. Through it all, he has never changed his approach or his demeanor. He is a professional in every sense of the word, and without exception, baseball people are glad he got a second chance to show his stuff. Everyone except for NL hitters, that is.

CHRIS THE PLAYER


Chris Carpenter, 2011 Heritage
     
 

When you watch Chris on a good day, pitching looks so simple. He throws five pitches consistently for strikes—a sinking fastball, a cutter, a slider, a curve and a change-up. All come from the same arm slot, making it easy for hitters to pick up his pitches, but impossible for them to tell what the ball will do. They get wood on the ball, but hardly ever good wood.

Chris works quickly and keeps the ball down, His infielders get plenty of action when he’s on. He rarely wastes a pitch, even on an 0-2 count.

When healthy, Chris is one of baseball’s most complete pitchers. His concentration is remarkable, and since he has learned to spot his pitches, he rarely lets himself have a bad inning. His only real enemy has been poor health.

One thing that no one questions about Chris is his will to win. He won’t back down to opposing hitters, and he knows when to throw a purpose pitch. Chris’s confidence rubs off on his teammates. If he's on the mound in a big game, the Cardinals feel certain they will win.

 


Chris Carpenter, autographed photo


 

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