Chris Carpenter’s Cy Young Award-winning 2005 season (Part 1)

Admittedly, this story about Chris Carpenter’s 2005 Cy Young Award-winning season got quite a bit longer than I originally intended. As a result, this is the first in a four-part series of articles. You can find the other parts here:

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

For years, Chris Carpenter and his wife Alyson would remember the night in fall 2003 that they stayed up into the early hours of the morning discussing their future. The question before the two of them was whether baseball would be a part of that future.

Carpenter, whose baseball career was defined by his intensity and drive to compete, was worn down. He was tired of being injured, tired of grinding through the pain in his pitching arm. After six major league seasons, not counting the 2003 season he missed due to shoulder surgery, Carpenter was ready to quit. His eight minor-league starts had resulted in pain so debilitating that he “couldn’t even play catch.”[1]

Alyson, however, talked him out of it.

“I was to the point where I didn’t want to do it anymore,” Carpenter said. “I’ll go get a regular job, whatever it is, I didn’t know. I was ready to go. Fortunately, (Alyson) wasn’t.”[2]

Carpenter, who had been released by the Toronto Blue Jays following the 2002 season, was signed by the Cardinals. After he missed the entire 2003 season, the Cardinals re-signed him and Carpenter underwent a second shoulder surgery. Finally, in 2004, he repaid the Cardinals for their faith with a 15-5 record and 3.46 ERA over 182 innings. His 15 wins marked a career high, and he suffered just one loss after July 11.

Nerve irritation kept him out of action during the postseason, but despite the setback, he was named the MLBPA’s comeback player of the year. He came to 2004 spring training the following February in shape and fully prepared to pitch a full season.

“Ever since I got down here and started throwing, I’ve basically felt like I did at the end of last season before I had that stupid injury,” Carpenter said.[3]

Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan agreed.

“I really like where Carp’s at,” he said following the second day of pitcher and catcher workouts. “He looks good. He’s throwing easy. He’s not dealing with the problem he had at the end of last season. It’s very encouraging.”[4]

So encouraging, in fact, that after Carpenter threw three scoreless innings against the Marlins in his spring training debut, manager Tony La Russa named him the team’s opening-day starter. Carpenter had been the Toronto Blue Jays’ opening-day starter in 2002.

“With some pitchers, you might look at how they match up against a particular team,” La Russa said. “With Carp, he’s shown the ability to beat all kinds of teams. After watching him last season, there’s no question about that.”[5]

Establishing a through line that would run the length of the 2005 season, Carpenter refused to get too excited about either the opening-day start or the season ahead.

“I’ve had people tell me it’s my year to go out and win 20 games and my year to go out and throw 250 innings,” Carpenter said without realizing how accurate those projections would be. “If you start putting that stuff down and think about it, it just takes up space in your brain.”[6]

That single-minded focus first paid dividends against the Marlins, as Carpenter pitched seven innings, allowing one earned run on four hits. He got 14 groundouts and retired the final 13 batters he faced in earning his first win of the season.

“He’s a special guy,” Duncan said. “He’s got a lot of the physical talent and he’s got the great makeup. What is he capable of? It’s too early to talk about it.”[7]

In his opening-day start for the Blue Jays three years earlier, Carpenter lasted just 2 1/3 innings. He went on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis the next day.

“The last year I threw opening day, my mind was all cluttered with a bunch of things – how many people were there, where we were, this is opening day,” Carpenter said. “It really did feel like another game today. Once I got on the mound, my nerves settled, my legs came back, and I felt good. That’s a normal day for me.”[8]

Carpenter’s next start was not a normal day, as he suffered one of his worst losses of the season. Carpenter went just 3 1/3 innings against the Phillies, allowing eight earned runs on 10 hits and two walks. The Cardinals lost the game 13-4.

“They were on everything he threw,” La Russa said.[9]

“At times that’s the way it is,” Carpenter said. “You run into a lineup that, obviously, they’re no slouch. They’re a quality team over there. If you get a few guys on a roll over there who are seeing the ball well, they’re going to make it tough for you. … I didn’t have my best stuff and I didn’t pitch well. It might be a different story a week from now.”[10]

The Cardinals were counting on it. On April 15, the team announced that it had signed Carpenter to a two-year, $13 million extension with a club option for 2008.

“It’s very exciting for me and my family,” Carpenter said. “It’s exciting to be part of the Cardinals team for several years more. It’s good to know the players, the manager, and the general manager who are going to be around. It plays into wanting to be part of this team.”[11]

Carpenter seemed to anticipate criticism for signing a deal that was beneath the value of recent free agent contracts signed by Kris Benson, Jaret Wright, and Eric Milton.

“Basically, my other option was to pitch the season and then look into the free agent market, or get it done now and know that for the next three years I was going to be where I wanted to play,” he said.

“This is the place I want to play. At some point in time you’ve got to factor the money people talk about against the fact I enjoy coming to the park every day and being around these guys.”[12]

The following day, Carpenter earned his second win of the season at Milwaukee. The start after that, he threw a complete-game shutout against the Cubs on April 21, his first since September 4, 2001.

“He never gave the impression he was tired or losing his stuff,” La Russa said.[13]

“I felt good,” Carpenter agreed. “It’s more about controlling your emotions and not trying to blow it out early in the game. You come out feeling strong and feeling good, you have to keep it in control and make good pitches. I got in a jam in the first inning today and was able to get out of it.”[14]

On his 30th birthday, Carpenter won his final start of April, striking out 12 Brewers over 7 2/3 innings in a 6-3 Cardinals win. Powered by a cycle from second baseman Mark Grudzielanek, Carpenter improved to 4-1 on the young season.

Brewers outfielder Geoff Jenkins said that Carpenter showed two different movements on his curveball.[15]

“I didn’t have (a curve) four or five starts into last year,” Carpenter said. “It was there. It was there for effect, but I wasn’t able to consistently throw it for strikes and do with it what I wanted to do. Right now, I feel I can throw my curveball for strikes or down or whatever I want to do with it. That was, I think, a key factor today.”[16]

Despite his strong start to April, Carpenter was relatively ordinary in May. In 40 innings, he allowed 16 earned runs for a 3.60 ERA. He walked 16 batters, including five in a May 7 loss to the San Diego Padres, and struck out 42. By the end of the month, his season ERA still hovered at 3.79.

On May 29, left-handed hitting Nationals outfielder Brad Wilkerson hit three doubles off Carpenter, including a two-run double in the fifth inning that tied the score 2-2. The Nationals ended up winning the game 3-2. More importantly, Wilkerson’s success against Carpenter reflected the success lefties across the league had enjoyed to that point in the season. Through the first two months, Carpenter had held right-handers to a .195 batting average, but lefties like Wilkerson were batting .331 against the Cardinals ace.

“Pitch selection has something to do with it,” Duncan said after the loss to the Nationals. “And execution. Today it was execution. He didn’t make pitches.”[17]

Duncan and Carpenter both admitted that the right-hander had been struggling with his delivery for weeks.

“I’m not real comfortable right now,” Carpenter said. “Sometimes I rush. Sometimes I try to stay back and I’m too late and I leave the ball up.”[18]

Carpenter took his first step to regaining his form with his next outing, throwing eight shutout innings against the Astros. Carpenter worked around eight hits and two walks in earning his eighth win of the season.

In the second inning, with Adam Everett at first, Brad Ausmus lined into an inning-ending double play to first baseman Albert Pujols. Carpenter got out of another jam in the fourth, as Chris Burke hit into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning. One inning later, Willy Taveras attempted a squeeze bunt but missed, leaving Everett to be tagged out following a brief rundown.

“We had a couple of balls hit right at guys in key situations, but I thought that I pitched well,” Carpenter said. “I kept the ball down in the strike zone. I made some quality pitches when I needed to make some quality pitches and we got some runs.”[19]

Carpenter would not be so fortunate in his next start against the Boston Red Sox. For five innings, he shut down a Boston lineup featuring Johnny Damon, David Ortiz, Trot Nixon, Jason Varitek, and Bill Mueller – each of whom stepped into the left-handed batter’s box. In the sixth, however, Ortiz homered to right field, and Kevin Millar and Nixon each singled. A two-run double by Varitek gave the Red Sox a 3-0 lead, and they wound up winning the game 4-0.

At the time, no one had any reason to suspect it would be Carpenter’s final loss until the final weeks of the regular season.

The story of Chris Carpenter’s 2005 season continues at the following links:

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4


[1] Derrick Goold, “Carpenter is Cy high,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 11, 2005: Page D12.

[2] Derrick Goold, “Carpenter is Cy high,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 11, 2005: Page D12.

[3] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter bounces back,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 21, 2005: Page D1.

[4] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter bounces back,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 21, 2005: Page D5.

[5] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter will start in opener,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 7, 2005: Page D1.

[6] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter will start in opener,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 7, 2005: Page D8.

[7] Derrick Goold, “Carpenter’s opening effort draws accolades,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 6, 2005: Page B5.

[8] Derrick Goold, “Carpenter’s opening effort draws accolades,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 6, 2005: Page B5.

[9] Joe Strauss, “Ring Day is joyless for the Cardinals,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 11, 2005, Page D5.

[10] Joe Strauss, “Ring Day is joyless for the Cardinals,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 11, 2005, Page D5.

[11] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter gets 2-year extension from Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 16, 2005, Page B4.

[12] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter gets 2-year extension from Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 16, 2005, Page B4.

[13] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter drills Cubs,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 22, 2005: Page D7.

[14] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter drills Cubs,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 22, 2005: Page D7.

[15] Derrick Goold, “Cards ride Grudzielanek cycle to win,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 28, 2005: Page D5.

[16] Derrick Goold, “Cards ride Grudzielanek cycle to win,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 28, 2005: Page D5.

[17] Rick Hummel, “Hernandez gets best of Carpenter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 30, 2005: Page C5.

[18] Rick Hummel, “Hernandez gets best of Carpenter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 30, 2005: Page C5.

[19] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter stars in masterpiece theater,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 4, 2005: Page B5.

 

4 thoughts on “Chris Carpenter’s Cy Young Award-winning 2005 season (Part 1)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: