Chris Carpenter’s Cy Young Award-winning 2005 season (Part 2)

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 second in a four-part series of articles. You can find the other parts here:

Part 1

Part 3

Part 4

Chris Carpenter’s father, Bob, knew by the time his son was a high school sophomore that he had the potential to be a special competitor.

As an 8-year-old, Chris threw against 12-year-olds. As a 15-year-old, he pitched in American Legion games against college freshmen. For Bob Carpenter, however, it was an elite invitational tournament in Brockton, Mass., that showed him just how focused Chris could be. With scouts from major league and college teams alike in the stands, Chris pitched well enough to win the tournament’s MVP award. As they drove home from the tournament, Bob asked Chris how it felt to pitch with 150 scouts in the stands.

“I didn’t notice anybody,” Chris replied.[1]

That singular focus would become a cornerstone of Carpenter’s career and his 2005 season. He was drafted 15th overall by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1993 draft and made his major-league debut in 1997. However, injuries and mediocre performances kept him from meeting his full potential.

Though Carpenter was the Blue Jays’ opening-day starter in 2002, shoulder issues resulted in three trips to the disabled list that season. In September, he had surgery to repair a torn glenoid labrum. Uncertain of Carpenter’s future, the Blue Jays removed him from the 40-man roster and offered him a minor-league contract.

Carpenter instead signed with the Cardinals for $300,000 plus incentives. When his shoulder required a second surgery and he was unable to pitch in 2003, the Cardinals re-signed him for 2004.

Against that backdrop, there was little doubt that Carpenter’s June 14, 2005, start against the Blue Jays meant just a little extra – even if Carpenter wanted to downplay the game’s significance.

“He’s a human being,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “He was a big part of this organization (Toronto). He wanted to come back and make an impression.”[2]

He certainly did that. Facing his former team, Carpenter pitched a complete-game one-hitter in which the Blue Jays’ only hit came on a two-out double by rookie shortstop Russ Adams.

Right fielder Larry Walker said Adams’ sixth-inning double landed just inside the right-field foul line.

 “In a game of inches, he came within a couple of inches of throwing a no-hitter,” Walker said.[3]

Carpenter’s performance was the 19th one-hitter in Cardinals history and the first in 10 years. He needed just 95 pitches to complete the game.

“I was thinking about (a no-hitter), no question about it,” Carpenter said. “I thought I had a chance. My stuff was good, and I thought I kept them off balance pretty good. It just seemed like it was one of those nights.

“On some of the mistakes I made, they swung and missed or popped them up. Besides that, I was making good pitches. There was nothing I could do except throw strikes and see what happens.”[4]

As for thoughts about paying back his former team, Carpenter dismissed such suggestions.

“I’ve been successful because I don’t let any of that stuff bother me,” he said. “My wife talked to me about it. People were saying stuff about it. But when I walked out to the bullpen, I was mentally prepared to go out and pitch.”

Carpenter’s win over the Blue Jays proved to be a turning point in his season. In his next outing against the Cincinnati Reds, Carpenter was again dominant, allowing one run on four hits and two walks over eight innings. He struck out eight while capturing his 15th win of the season.

“I think he’s pitching the way he’s capable of,” Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan said. “I don’t think anybody should be surprised by it. I know no one is in this clubhouse.”[5]

After the game, La Russa said Carpenter was throwing as well as any pitcher in either league.[6]

“If I make my pitches by keeping the ball down in the strike zone and on both sides of the plate, I believe I’ll have success,” Carpenter said. “Hitting’s hard. It’s tough to hit the ball when it’s thrown there, no matter how good you are.”[7]

Carpenter was somehow even more dominant in his next outing, shutting out the Pirates in a complete-game effort. The Pittsburgh lineup managed just four hits as Carpenter struck out 11 without walking a batter.

The performance dropped Carpenter’s ERA to 2.77.

“The way he’s throwing right now, you wonder if they’re going to get a hit,” Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen said. “And then you wonder, ‘Are they even going to score a run?”[8]

Over his last five starts, Carpenter had allowed just four runs over 40 innings. He ranked sixth in the league in ERA and second in strikeouts and innings pitched.

“I’ve been able to get ahead,” Carpenter said. “I’ve been able to stay aggressive in the strike zone and I’ve been able to throw breaking balls where I need to throw them.”[9]

“It’s like he sat out a couple years, learned a lot of things, then got healthy,” Cardinals center fielder Jim Edmonds said. “He’s going out there applying what he learned and it’s pretty impressive.”[10]

After struggling against lefties early in the season, Carpenter’s improved command of his cut fastball and curveball had effectively nullified the strategy opponents had relied upon. The Pirates had started all four of their left-handed bats against Carpenter to no avail.

“It’s hard to say his style has changed,” Edmonds said. “He’s an exciting pitcher to play behind. I think that maybe he’s learning how to finish guys off. He’s throwing more cutters when he used to throw all those sinkers and get ground balls. It’s a good pitch to get strikeouts. His games are fast and he gets outs.”[11]

“He can throw strikes all day long,” Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen said. “Then as soon as he wants a strikeout, he can throw something off the plate and get a swing. To me, that’s dominant.”[12]

Carpenter improved to 12-4 on on July 1 with a 6-0 win over the Rockies. Carpenter pitched 7 2/3 innings, striking out nine while allowing five hits and two walks.

“I’ve got guys coming over to first base and telling me, ‘Man, this guy is so nasty – he has like five different pitches,’” Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols said. “When you hear guys on the other side saying that, we probably have something good going.”[13]

The rest of the league agreed. That week, Major League Baseball announced that his fellow players had voted Carpenter to the National League all-star team. It was to be the first all-star game appearance of his career.

In his final start of the first half, Carpenter held the Diamondbacks to one run over eight innings in a 2-1 victory. He earned the win when shortstop David Eckstein laid down a squeeze bunt in the ninth inning that scored So Taguchi for the game-winning run.

The win made Carpenter just the third pitcher in Cardinals history to enter the all-star break with 13 wins, joining Joaquin Andujar and Kent Bottenfield.

To read more about Chris Carpenter’s 2005 season, please see Part 3.


[1] Joe Strauss, “That’s a winner,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 16, 2005: Page D5.

[2] Joe Strauss, “It’s one, and done, for Jays,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 15, 2005: Page D5.

[3] Joe Strauss, “It’s one, and done, for Jays,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 15, 2005: Page D1.

[4] Joe Strauss, “It’s one, and done, for Jays,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 15, 2005: Page D1.

[5] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter hits double digits,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 21, 2005: Page D1.

[6] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter hits double digits,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 21, 2005: Page D5.

[7] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter hits double digits,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 21, 2005: Page D5.

[8] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter wins 11th with aid of homers,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 26, 2005: Page D1.

[9] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter wins 11th with aid of homers,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 26, 2005: Page D10.

[10] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter wins 11th with aid of homers,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 26, 2005: Page D10.

[11] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter wins 11th with aid of homers,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 26, 2005: Page D10.

[12] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter wins 11th with aid of homers,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 26, 2005: Page D10.

[13] Derrick Goold, “Carpenter carves up the Rockies,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 2, 2005: Page B5.

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