Chris Carpenter’s Cy Young Award-winning 2005 season (Part 3)

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

Part 1

Part 2

Part 4

On July 11, Tony La Russa announced that Chris Carpenter would be the National League’s starting pitcher in the 2005 all-star game, making him the first Cardinal to do so since Rick Wise in 1973. Other candidates for the job were Roger Clemens of the Astros and Dontrelle Willis of the Marlins.

“He was the guy who was dominant from the get-go,” Willis said. “I felt he was throwing the ball the best and he’s La Russa’s guy. If he was my guy, I would want to put him out there.”[1]

Edmonds said that he believed the all-star game would prove a showcase event for Carpenter.

“He’s the guy who has been kind of flying under the radar,” Cardinals center fielder Jim Edmonds said. “I think maybe after (the all-star game) he’ll get more attention and people will start realizing how good he is.”[2]

Carpenter didn’t pitch his best, but he did throw a scoreless inning, working around one-out singles from Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz. With runners on first and third and two outs, Carpenter got Manny Ramirez to hit into a 6-4-3 double play.

Amid the all-star game festivities, Clemens, who had pitched alongside Carpenter in Toronto, pulled his former teammate aside to tell Carpenter how proud he was of the way in which he had come back from his shoulder injuries.[3]

“The sky was the limit with him, talent-wise,” Clemens said. “You could tell he had the stuff to be at this level. He was eager to learn how to pitch and you just knew he was going to get better. It was fun having him as a teammate.”[4]

It may have been less fun having him as an opponent. Once the regular season resumed, Carpenter’s first turn in the rotation came against Clemens and the Astros. Carpenter responded with his fourth complete game of the season and arguably his best performance outside of the Toronto game. The Astros managed just three hits as Carpenter struck out nine without walking a batter.

“I don’t know if he got a ball above mid-thigh,” Clemens said. “Obviously, he likes to work fast. You’d like to slow him down. He just did a number on us. I don’t think we really posed a threat to him.”[5]

Duncan said he saw similarities between the two starting pitchers, particularly in their attitude on the mound.[6]

With Carpenter now 14-4 on the season with a 2.34 ERA, the media asked him about the possibility of winning the Cy Young.

“I haven’t given it any thought,” Carpenter said. “Again, at the end of the season, when everything is all said and done and the season’s over, then you guys can ask me about how exciting my year was or how excited I am about my year, but I’ve got a lot of starts left, so we’ll see what happens.”[7]

Carpenter only added to the Cy Young discussion with his next start, a nine-inning, one-run performance against the Cubs. Carpenter didn’t receive a decision in the 2-1 Cardinals win, as David Eckstein again won a game with a squeeze bunt, this one coming in the 11th inning to score pinch runner Hector Luna.

In Carpenter’s final start of July, the Padres jumped on him for three second-inning runs, as Mark Sweeney doubled to drive in two and Khalil Green followed with an RBI double down the left-field line. Those would prove to be San Diego’s only runs of the evening as the Cardinals won 11-3.

Carpenter lasted seven innings, retiring 13 of the final 14 batters he faced to earn his 15th win of the season.

“As I went on, I started to establish my cutter and my fastball and I was able to keep them off balance,” Carpenter said. “I got back to my normal game and was able to settle down.”[8]

With his 15th win of the season, Carpenter matched a career high and joined Joaquin Andujar as the only Cardinals pitchers to win 15 games before August. Andujar accomplished the feat in 1985.

Carpenter opened August by squaring off with another of the leading candidates for the Cy Young. With Willis pitching for the Marlins, Carpenter allowed just one run over nine innings. He held the Marlins to just three hits and a walk while striking out six as the Cardinals won, 3-1.

“Usually pitchers have a tendency to throw to their strengths or to the hitter’s weakness or try to set them up,” Cardinals catcher Mike Matheny said. “Carp does all three. His pitches are always down in the zone. His sinker and cutter look identical. They come to the plate and three-quarters of the way there one dives to the third-base side and one dives to the first-base side. When it’s going, which he’s done all season, it’s fun to watch.”[9]

In the next day’s paper, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bryan Burwell wrote, “We are now at a point where we can no longer avoid seeing Chris Carpenter for exactly what he is, which is the best pitcher in baseball.”[10]

Carpenter received no decision in his next start, an eight-inning, two run performance against the Braves in which he struck out 10. Eckstein, who had twice used sacrifice bunts to win Carpenter’s starts, this time hit a ninth-inning grand slam for a 5-3 win.

Carpenter’s next start was actually an even more nail-biting affair, though for entirely different reasons. With his wife Alyson about to give birth to the couple’s second child, Carpenter’s start against the Cubs was delayed for 162 minutes. With no time to spare, Carpenter threw 109 pitches in a complete-game effort, his sixth in his last nine starts.

Aramis Ramirez hit a third-inning pitch onto Waveland Avenue for a two-run homer, but Carpenter kept the Cubs off the scoreboard the rest of the way for a 5-2 win. He finished the game with eight strikeouts.

“We needed a win badly,” La Russa said. “We’ve got a close game. He got a 2-0 pitch up to a terrific hitter who hit the ball out of the state. And that’s the last run they get. That’s dominating.”[11]

With the win, Carpenter improved to 10-0 with a 1.32 ERA against National League Central Division opponents. Immediately after the game ended, he returned to New Hampshire for the birth of his daughter.

“I’ve never seen a pitcher have this kind of season,” said Matt Morris, who compared Carpenter’s season favorably to his own 2001 season, when he won 22 games.

“The year I won those games there were some not-so-great outings where the team picked me up with a bunch of runs. Carp hasn’t had those days. It’s been one after another.”[12]

After earning a no-decision against the Giants, Carpenter earned his 18th win of the season against the Pirates on August 24, allowing three runs over eight innings. The Cardinals’ 8-3 win marked the 2,194th career managerial win for La Russa, tying him with Sparky Anderson for third place all time.

“That was probably one of (Carpenter’s) most difficult games of the year,” Duncan said. “He really struggled early on. He said he really had no clue where the ball was going. It didn’t feel good coming out of his hand, and his rhythm was not good. It wasn’t until, like, the fourth inning that he had a little better feel for what he was doing, but that’s the sign of a good pitcher, when they recognize right away what they have to work with and they made the adjustments they need to make.”[13]

Carpenter picked up win No. 19 in his next outing, allowing just one run over 7 2/3 innings against the Marlins. Along the way he took the league lead in innings pitched, and by game’s end, he ranked second in the National League in strikeouts and ERA. It was Carpenter’s 11th consecutive win, second in Cardinals history only to the 15 straight wins Bob Gibson claimed in 1968.

After the game, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asked him about the possibility of winning the Cy Young.

“I’d lie if I don’t say that it crosses my mind, but those are the things I might think about for 30 seconds and then get rid of them,” Carpenter said. “It’s stuff in your head that you don’t need to think about.”[14]

“He just concentrates and blocks out everything no matter where he’s pitching: home, away, the time of day, everything,” La Russa said. “He’s got great concentration; he’s got a very strong mind.”[15]

Carpenter would need that mental strength to get through the final month of the regular season. Heading into September, he already had thrown 204 innings, his highest total since he threw 215 2/3 innings with the Blue Jays in 2001.

Carpenter, however was eyeing another milestone – his 20th win of the season. To achieve the feat on September 3, Carpenter and the Cardinals needed to once again beat Clemens, who entered the game with a 1.51 ERA.

The Astros opened the scoring in the second inning when Mike Lamb and Luke Scott hit back-to-back doubles, but the Cardinals answered in the top of the fourth with two runs on two hits and an error. After Clemens left the game with a strained left hamstring after the fifth inning, Lance Berkman homered to lead off the sixth inning and tie the score 2-2.

The Cardinals, however, would strike against the Astros’ bullpen, as Mark Grudzielanek hit an RBI double in the seventh and Yadier Molina added an RBI single in the eighth.

In the ninth inning, Astros leadoff hitter Adam Everett made little effort to get out of a breaking ball that nearly hit him. Carpenter yelled at Everett, then glared at Brad Ausmus on deck and Phil Garner in the Astros dugout. That anger seemed to fuel his final pitches of the game as he struck out Everett, retired Ausmus on a weak ground ball, and struck out pinch hitter Orlando Palmeiro for his 20th win of the season.

It was his seventh complete game of the season, the most by a Cardinals pitcher since Joe Magrane pitched nine in 1989.[16]

As Carpenter walked off the field, Duncan gave him a big hug.

“I save my hugs for special occasions,” Duncan said.[17]

By reaching the milestone in just 28 starts, Carpenter matched Dizzy Dean’s 1936 season as the fastest Cardinal pitcher to reach 20 wins.

“Twenty is a big number, and where I was a few years ago, I would never expect to be here,” Carpenter said. “But that said, I knew that if I got myself healthy, I would be able to come back and compete and be successful. I’ve hit a different level with myself to be able to go out and do what I’m doing. I always say I wish I knew what I know now five or six years ago because it would have been a different story, but that’s what comes with experience and maturity.”[18]

To read more about Chris Carpenter’s 2005 season, please see Part 4.


[1] Derrick Goold, “A pair of aces,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 12, 2005: Page D5.

[2] Derrick Goold, “A pair of aces,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 12, 2005: Page D5.

[3] Rick Hummel, “An arm and a leg,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 18, 2005: Page D5.

[4] Rick Hummel, “An arm and a leg,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 18, 2005: Page D5.

[5] Rick Hummel, “An arm and a leg,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 18, 2005: Page D5.

[6] Rick Hummel, “An arm and a leg,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 18, 2005: Page D5.

[7] Bernie Miklasz, “Humble Carpenter makes a pitch for Cy Young,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 18, 2005: Page D1.

[8] Joe Strauss, “Edmonds finds spark as offense comes alive,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 29, 2005: Page D1.

[9] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter trumps Willis,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 3, 2005: Page D5.

[10] Bryan Burwell, “Carpenter makes clear his status among elite,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 3, 2005: Page D1.

[11] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter delivers,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 14, 2005: Page D1.

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

[13] Rick Hummel, “Cards’ win humbles La Russa,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 25, 2005: Page D5.

[14] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter reels in win No. 19,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 30, 2005: Page D1.

[15] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter reels in win No. 19,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 30, 2005: Page D5.

[16] Dan O’Neill, “Winning 20 games is nice, but only a few can lose 20,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch,

[17] Joe Strauss, “Cy is the limit as Carpenter wins his 20th,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 4, 2005: Page D11.

[18] Joe Strauss, “Cy is the limit as Carpenter wins his 20th,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 4, 2005: Page D11.

 

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