Simply put, the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals would not have won the World Series without starting pitcher Chris Carpenter. They had to try to repeat without the veteran right-hander for most of 2012. Despite an inspirational and unexpected recovery from mid-season surgery, the old October magic was not there.
A player whose durability has been a career-long challenge, Carpenter was made of bedrock in 2011. He answered the bell for 34 or more starts for the second consecutive year, marking the first time in his 14-year career he accomplished the feat. 30 of his 34 starts in 2011 were at least six innings in duration, including 21 of seven innings or longer.
Also, for the first time in his career, Carp led the National League in innings pitched at 237 1/3 and he also tied for tops in the circuit with his 34 games started. He won the final game of the regular season at Houston and his NLDS Game 5 performance, besting Roy Halladay and the Philles by 1-0 score, will never be forgotten.
To finish off his fine season, Carpenter made three World Series starts, pitching 19 innings. He won two contests, including Game 7, while logging a 2.84 ERA.
All those innings pitched at age 36 came at a price, however.
This spring, Carpenter never appeared in an official game. He suffered what was originally diagnosed as a bulging cervical disk, after experiencing weakness in his neck, shoulder and upper arm. Carp opened the season on the disabled list with no clear date for a return.
After a long period of uncertainty, Carpenter underwent surgery in July, an action which was expected to be season-ending. His thoracic outlet procedure included removal of a rib to relieve nerve pressure.
Recovery from the surgery proved to be shorter than expected as Carpenter was able to return in September. He made three starts to close out the regular season, but went 0-2 with a no-decision.
Still, his 3.71 ERA indicated his readiness to assume a spot in the post-season rotation and offered a ray of hope that he could again marshal the Cardinals forces toward a repeat World Series title.
Against Washington in the NLDS, Carpenter started Game 3, the first of three road contests. He pitched scoreless ball into the sixth inning as the Cardinals beat the Nationals 8-0.
In the NLCS, however, Carpenter ran out of magic as well as good pitches and good fortune. St. Louis’ disappearing offense and shaky defense also played major roles.
Carp took the loss in the Cardinals’ 7-1 defeat to San Francisco in Game 2. Three of Carpenter’s five runs allowed through four innings were unearned following his own error and another by Matt Holliday.
In Game 6, he played a lead role as the Cardinals failed in the second of three straight opportunities to close out the Giants. Carpenter absorbed another loss in San Francisco, by a 6-1 score. The home club broke out with five runs in the first two innings. Three of the Giants’ tallies were unearned as the result of a Pete Kozma miscue.
Carpenter finished his 2012 with one win and four losses in six starts. The six unearned runs in the NLCS are not reflected in his 3.22 ERA.
Having signed a two-year contract in September 2011, Carpenter may conclude his long and successful St. Louis career following the 2013 campaign.
In between, we are left to wonder how the 2012 season would have played out had a truly healthy Carpenter been available throughout. The year before, we experienced what having him at his best meant to the Cardinals.