Sure, Josh Beckett plays for the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, the new Yankees in terms of player payroll escalation and the St. Louis Cardinals’ bitter opponent in the 2013 National League Championship Series.
Yes, prior to that, Beckett headed the rotation of the Boston Red Sox, the club that painfully defeated the Cardinals in both the 2004 and 2013 World Series. In all fairness to him, however, Beckett did not earn a ring there. He arrived in Beantown in 2005 and departed in 2012.
Yet, there is more to see than just another mound opponent.
The right-hander has some very interesting parallels with recently-retired Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter – both on the mound and in life. Each was a first-round pick, drafted by struggling franchises six years apart – Carpenter with the Toronto Blue Jays and Beckett with the Florida Marlins.
Moving to perennial contenders after five or six years in the majors, their respective careers really took off. Despite considerable success, including a 20-win season for each, they have had more than average problems with injuries.
Beckett has been on the disabled list at least 15 times in his 13-year career, though mostly of shorter duration. Carpenter missed all or major parts of six of his 17 big-league campaigns.
Even with all the maladies of the past, they recently encountered a particular late-career opponent unlike anything they had ever faced before.
Both men were diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome. Carpenter eventually had to give in, but Beckett is still fighting – with Carpenter’s encouragement.
Now 38 years of age, Carpenter had what would be his final hurrah as the workhorse of St. Louis’ 2011 World Champions. After months of a lack of clarity about his condition in 2012, Carpenter was diagnosed with the ailment, which is characterized by tingling, numbness and swelling in the neck, shoulder, and ribs.
He underwent what was originally announced as season-ending surgery in July 2012 to remove a rib and displace nerves. Beating expectations, Carpenter returned to the active roster that September, but lacked his usual effectiveness.
2013 was a year of on and off plans – mostly off. In February, Carpenter informed the Cardinals that the numbness and swelling had returned. The club announced that it was “very unlikely” Carpenter would be unable to pitch in the final year of his contract.
Unwilling to accept that prognosis, Carpenter worked his way back to the point of making a pair of minor league rehab starts in July. When the numbness returned, he had no choice but to stop pitching, this time for good. Carpenter will be joining the Cardinals front office in his first post-retirement job.
Beckett, five years younger than Carpenter at 33, admitted he had felt the numbness and tingling “for years,” a condition that had become obvious to observers during his first spring training camp with the Dodgers last spring. The native Texan had moved west from Boston in a mega-trade the prior summer.
After a dreadful start to the 2013 season – 0-5, 5.19 ERA – Beckett was placed on the disabled list on May 14. He underwent surgery to remove a rib and displace nerves on July 10, almost 12 months to the day after Carpenter. The two even used the same Dallas surgeon, Dr. Greg Pearl.
Unlike Carpenter, Beckett did not push to return to the mound last fall as the Dodgers chased their championship dreams. In early 2014, Beckett was able to ramp up his throwing program at home without the recurrence that Carpenter experienced the year before.
Another positive step was achieved on Monday in Dodgers camp in Arizona, as Beckett threw his first official bullpen since the surgery. If healthy, he will slide back into Los Angeles’ starting five. Given there are no assurances, the Dodgers have prepared for the alternative, with newly-signed Paul Maholm waiting in the wings as rotation insurance.
Carpenter has shared his experiences with Beckett, as the two have often exchanged text messages, MLB.com reports. Beckett asserts that Carpenter’s surgery was “more complicated” than his, but their communication “helped me a lot and got me through the mental part.”
It is clear that Carpenter is pulling for Beckett, so perhaps Carpenter’s legion of admirers should, too – at least until the post-season comes around again!