What I’m Reading: “Molina” by Bengie Molina with Joan Ryan

“Molina: The Story of the Father Who Raised an Unlikely Baseball Dynasty” was published in 2015, but as 2020 draws to a close I can safely say it has been the best baseball book I have read this year.

From the title, one can be forgiven for expecting the book to be about the three Molina brothers huddled around their father as he provides them with the insights that will allow all three to become major league catchers. Instead, this is a deeply personal book about Bengie Molina’s growth into a man and how his relationship with his father drove him, both in baseball and his personal life.

Bengie’s brothers Jose Molina (called Cheo) and Yadier Molina feature prominently in the story, but this is clearly Bengie’s story to tell, and with the assistance of co-author Joan Ryan, he does it remarkably well. Bengie takes readers to his childhood in Puerto Rico, where his family lived paycheck-to-paycheck and his father Benjamin was a widely beloved figure in the local baseball community.

Using the baseball field located across the street, the quiet and hard-working Benjamin taught his boys the game. Surprisingly, Bengie played every position on the field except for catcher as he was growing up. Driven to be one of the great Puerto Rican baseball players like his father and to live his father’s dream of playing in the majors, Bengie struggled to attract the attention of scouts. It wasn’t until he had already gone undrafted following two years of junior college baseball and was about to call it quits that a scout suggested he show what he could do at catcher. It became the beginning of an arduous journey through the minor leagues.

Bengie doesn’t pull any punches in telling his story. He discusses his insecurities and fears – particularly his fear of disappointing his father. Through the course of the story, Benjamin plays a central role, and the book is a fascinating character study of Bengie’s father and the ways in which his father’s life impacted his own. Benjamin is an honorable man throughout and beloved by his community, but is rarely openly affectionate. Instead, in many ways, he expresses his tremendous love for his sons through baseball and by setting a quiet example. For the sensitive Bengie, this only increases his drive to succeed on the diamond.

After Bengie makes it to the majors, he makes a decision regarding his family that severely frays the two men’s relationship. It’s only after Benjamin visits Bengie’s family in Arizona that the two reconcile shortly before Benjamin’s passing due to a heart attack.

It takes a certain kind of courage for Bengie Molina to write a book this thoughtful and personal, one that’s truly more about his family and his heritage than about baseball. Baseball is a through line in Bengie’s relationship with his father and brothers, but as we see in “Molina,” while his relationship with his father may have relied upon baseball in many ways, it was vastly more rich and complicated.


Enjoy this story? Enter your email below to get new posts sent directly to your inbox or follow Remember Your Redbirds on Twitter!

What I’m Reading: “One Last Strike” by Tony La Russa with Rick Hummel

In “One Last Strike: Fifty Years in Baseball, Ten and a Half Games Back, and One Final Championship Season,” Tony La Russa looks back at what he believed would be his final season as a major-league manager.

The 2011 Cardinals team was, of course, a great team to write a book about, with strong personalities and an incredible story to tell. The book is at its best when it’s sharing stories about the players. La Russa’s obvious affection for role players like Gerald Laird and Arthur Rhodes provides a bright spot, and Raphael Furcal’s despondency following a key late-season was a detail I hadn’t heard before.

It also was interesting to read about the discussions taking place between La Russa and his staff and John Mozeliak as the trade deadline approached. La Russa doesn’t get into many specifics about the trade of Colby Rasmus to the Blue Jays, but he does discuss the question the team confronted as the trade deadline approached – if the Cardinals traded Rasmus for role players who could help them that season, did the team have enough talent to compete for a championship? Ultimately, La Russa and his staff believed that they did, and the rest was history.

La Russa’s personality is evident throughout the book, so your mileage may vary. It’s his book, of course, so he addresses issues and controversies in his own way. If you feel that La Russa was condescending during his postgame press conferences, this book won’t change your mind.

At times, he’s a bit curmudgeonly and defensive. He says that fatigue of dealing with the media was a major part of his decision to retire. He takes a brief segue to rehash his longstanding dispute with Ozzie Smith, going out of the way to point out that Ozzie’s final season became a farewell tour after he announced his retirement, while La Russa kept his retirement a secret to keep it from becoming a distraction. He also defends himself from the common critique that he doesn’t particularly like using young players, and defends his relationship with Rasmus by pointing out that he asked the team’s veterans to take Rasmus under their wing.

La Russa’s defense of his first DUI (much like his initial defense of the second) is particularly uninspiring, as he recounts that police officers had found him stopped at a red light, asleep. “Evidently, I’d had too much wine and failed the breath test.” Evidently, indeed. With the recent news of another DUI, La Russa’s careful framing to avoid responsibility is grating.

As a manager, he obviously looks at the game with a unique perspective, plotting out potential moves well in advance, and he brings that thought process to recounting the 2011 season. At times, it brings a unique dynamic to his descriptions of the games. At other times, such as when recounting David Freese’s World Series Game 6 home run, it comes off as dry and uninspired.

In all, “One Last Strike” is worth reading for fans of the 2011 Cardinals, especially as La Russa prepares to return to the dugout as the new manager of the White Sox. The La Russa era in St. Louis was a period of great success, and the tone he set continues to have an impact on the team’s approach to the game and its perception within the league.

Unfortunately, in writing this book La Russa often feels a bit too guarded. He is perfectly content to discuss managerial strategy, but everything else remains close to the vest. For some, that will be enough. For most readers, however, I would recommend “3 Nights in August” by Buzz Bissinger first.

Some of my favorite stories from the book:

  • La Russa recounts an interleague game against Detroit that the Cardinals lost 10-1. Afterwards, La Russa lit into his team about its effort and locked the doors to the room where the team’s spread was laid out, telling them that if they weren’t going to put in the effort, they wouldn’t get to eat. The next day, Eric Davis brought a paper bag to the clubhouse. When La Russa asked him about it, Davis told him it contained a sandwich. The veteran outfielder knew he wasn’t scheduled to play that day, but this time he was prepared in case his teammates played with the same effort.
  • La Russa mentions an August 22 game against the Dodgers in which he came out to the mound in the ninth inning of a 1-0 game to pull Chris Carpenter from the game. After calling for Rhodes from the bullpen, he asked Carpenter to wait for Rhodes to arrive and take the ball so that La Russ and Carpenter could walk off the field together. Instead, Carpenter walked away, telling La Russa, “I’ll take the applause. You get the boos all to yourself.” Sure enough, the crowd booed La Russa, especially after the Dodgers scored two runs to win the game.
  • After Yadier Molina hit his ninth-inning home run against the Mets in the 2006 NLCS, he always objected when La Russa suggested he might take a day off in New York. No. No,” he would say. “Before or after New York. I like to hear them boo me.”
  • Before the 2011 World Series, the Rangers wanted to change the Cardinals’ workout time at the Ballpark in Arlington. When Major League Baseball called to tell La Russa, he objected, explaining that the Cardinals had moved up their flight to appear at their scheduled workout time. “Tell them no way,” La Russa said. “And tell Nolan Ryan that I’m not Robin Ventura either.”

Enjoy this story? Enter your email below to get new posts sent directly to your inbox or follow Remember Your Redbirds on Twitter!

Chris Carpenter’s Cy Young Award-winning 2005 season (Part 4)

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

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

On September 8, Chris Carpenter earned win No. 21, shutting out the Mets for seven innings while striking out seven. In the first inning, Kaz Matsui singled and advanced to second on a wild pitch. He would prove to be the only Mets baserunner to reach scoring position.

“What a performance we’re watching,” Tony La Russa said. “It’s been a privilege to watch this kind of excellence.”

With the performance, Carpenter dropped his ERA to a season-low 2.21 and became the first pitcher since the live-ball era began in 1920 to go 16 consecutive starts with at least seven innings pitched and three runs allowed or fewer without suffering a loss. It was his 22nd consecutive quality start, the longest such stretch by any pitcher since Gibson did the same in 1968.[1]

“That’s what my goal is: trying to be consistent as often as I can,” Carpenter said. “I’ve said this (before): If you go out and be consistent and give this team a chance to win with the defense, offense, and bullpen we have, we’re going to win a lot of games.”[2]

Carpenter’s streak of quality starts ended with his next outing. After allowing just 12 hits combined in his three previous starts against the Pirates, Carpenter lost an early 4-0 lead, allowing four earned runs on 11 hits. Three of those runs came in the seventh before La Russa removed him with one out.

While Carpenter’s outing was brief compared to his other starts that summer, he was now up to 226 1/3 innings on the season.

“I felt great,” Carpenter said. “I was cruising along and thought I was throwing the ball well. Then I got into the seventh inning and all of a sudden I started getting some balls up and it got away from me.”[3]

David Eckstein, who seemed to make a habit of late-inning heroics in Carpenter’s starts, hit a two-out single to drive home the game-winning run in the ninth inning.

While he lacked his typical sharpness, Carpenter earned his 200th strikeout of the season when he got Nate McLouth at the end of the fourth inning.

One day after the Cardinals clinched the National League Central Division Championship with a 5-1 win over the Cubs, Carpenter pitched just four innings. Amid talk that the Cardinals were irritated with a Cubs pitcher who was staring into their dugout, the Cubs accused Carpenter of the same. When Carpenter was backing up third base on an RBI double by Corey Patterson in the second inning, Carpenter and Cubs manager Dusty Baker exchanged heated words.

“I said, ‘Hey man, what are you staring at?’” Baker said. “He said, ‘If you’ve got something to say, then come to the mound.’ That’s when I got mad and cursed. Maybe I shouldn’t have. … I had just given him the highest compliment last week when I said he was one of the best competitors around because he didn’t showboat or clown around.”[4]

Carpenter had been slated to pitch five innings, but irritated his back and was removed early as a precaution. Despite wearing a heat pack each day between starts, Carpenter and La Russa both said Carpenter’s back would not impact his start against the Brewers.[5]

Regardless, Carpenter’s showing at Milwaukee proved to be his worst start since Philadelphia scored eight runs off him in his second start of the season. After going 18 games without a loss since June 8, the Brewers ended Carpenter’s run on September 23, scoring nine earned runs on 12 hits and three walks. The Brewers rallied from 2-0 and 6-2 deficits to win the game 9-6.

“I made some bad pitches and even the good ones got hit,” Carpenter said. “That makes me want to puke. It’s just unacceptable.”[6]

Duncan said that while Carpenter’s velocity was fine, his location was inconsistent.[7]

Brewers second baseman Bill Hall, who finished the day with four hits, included an RBI triple and RBI single, said, “He left a lot of pitches out over the plate … a lot of good fastballs to hit. We wanted to be aggressive. We knew if you’re going to get hits off him, it’s going to be early in the count. We went out there to be aggressive and it paid off.”[8]

After the game, La Russa was asked about the impact the outing would have on Carpenter’s Cy Young chances. He pointed that it was just Carpenter’s fifth loss of the season, and that the other candidates for the award – including Clemens and Willis – each had more.

“If the mentality of the people who vote is to look at one game today and ignore the fact he hadn’t lost in three months … if that’s their mentality, then he never had a chance anyway,” La Russa said.[9]

Meanwhile, Carpenter was focused on his own mentality as he prepared for his final start of the regular season against the Astros. He admitted that looking forward to the playoffs may have cost him the focus that had been his competitive edge throughout the season.

“I wouldn’t say I’m letting myself get ahead of anything, but a little bit of focus is lost on what I’m doing,” Carpenter said. “That’s what makes me mad. That’s what disappoints me. I’m strong enough mentally not to do that and I’ve let myself do it anyway.”[10]

Carpenter wouldn’t come away with better numbers in his final outing, allowing five earned runs over six innings in a no-decision against the Astros. Despite the poor stat line, he felt better coming out of the Cardinals’ 7-6 loss than he had his previous two starts.

“My stuff was better than it had been in my last two. It was just a strange game,” Carpenter said. “I made a few mistakes, but there were a lot of infield hits, a lot of broken-bat hits. It was just one of those nights, but I’m definitely going to take something positive from it. My stuff was better and my approach was better.”[11]

Nonetheless, Carpenter lost leads of 1-0, 2-1, and 6-4. He allowed nine hits and walked one.

“It was a deceiving line because we ended up basically bleeding him to death,” said Astros third baseman Morgan Ensberg, who finished with four hits in the game. “We didn’t hit the ball hard – a couple guys hit the ball hard – but really you’re talking about guys getting jammed, guys hitting the ball off the end of the bat, or guys hitting just the right spot on the infield. We just basically did a good job of placing the ball.”

With the no-decision, Carpenter finished the regular season with a 21-5 record and 2.83 ERA. Over 241 2/3 innings, he struck out 213 batters and walked 51. As much as anyone, he had played a key role in returning the Cardinals to the postseason, and as a reward, La Russa named him the Game 1 starter against Jake Peavy and the Padres in the National League Division Series.

What appeared to be a pitcher’s duel between two of the game’s best instead became a blowout, as the Cardinals scored eight runs to chase Peavy from the game with one out in the fifth inning. Afterwards, Peavy admitted that he had injured his ribs while celebrating the National League West championship. An MRI after the game found that he had pitched through a broken rib.

Carpenter, meanwhile, threw six shutout innings and left the game with an 8-0 lead. With his cut fastball back in form, Carpenter benefitted from double plays in the second, third, and fourth innings.

“I felt like after the second (inning) I started to settle down, get the ball down in the strike zone, and make the quality pitches I had to make,” Carpenter said.[12]

Battling cramps in his hands, hamstrings, and calves, Carpenter left the game after warming up for the seventh inning. The Cardinals had planned to use him in Game 5 of the series if necessary, but with the series sweep, the Cardinals had Carpenter in line to start Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Astros.

It marked just the third time all season Carpenter’s family saw him pitch in person. In a 5-3 Cardinals victory, Carpenter pitched eight innings, allowing two earned runs on five hits and three walks. He needed just 31 pitches to get his final 12 outs.

“I got myself into some situations with some walks but my stuff was pretty good all night,” Carpenter said. “I wasn’t going to let certain guys hurt me in certain situations.”[13]

Carpenter even contributed at the plate, laying down a squeeze bunt in the second inning to score Abraham Nunez.

With the Astros winning each of the next three games, Carpenter found himself pitching to keep the Cardinals’ season alive in Game 5. He responded with six strikeouts in seven innings, allowing three earned runs. In the ninth inning, Albert Pujols hit a three-run homer off Brad Lidge to win the game.

Despite the Game 5 win, the Astros closed out the series in Game 6.

In November, Major League Baseball announced that Carpenter had won the National League Cy Young Award with 19 first-place votes, making him the first Cardinal to win the award since Bob Gibson in 1970. Carpenter placed first or second on 31 of 32 ballots to total 132 points, finishing ahead of the Marlins’ Dontrelle Willis.

Carpenter and his wife Alyson received the news in the same New Hampshire home where they had stayed up into the early-morning hours two years before, contemplating Carpenter’s possible retirement.

“It’s one of those memories that will always stick in my head – we sat here until about 3 in the morning crying and talking about my career,” Carpenter said. “I was ready to be done. She didn’t think I was done and that I would regret it if I didn’t take that one more step and try to come back. I know that if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here.”[14]


Enjoy this post? Find similar stories listed by decade or by player. You can also enter your email below to get new posts sent directly to your inbox!


[1] Derrick Goold, “Pujols pads his resume for MVP,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 9, 2005: Page D5.

[2] Derrick Goold, “Pujols pads his resume for MVP,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 9, 2005: Page D5.

[3] Joe Strauss, “Cardinals grind out win,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 14, 2005: Page D5.

[4] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter loses temper, not game,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 19, 2005: Page C5.

[5] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter absorbs a painful loss,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 24, 2005: Page B5.

[6] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter absorbs a painful loss,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 24, 2005: Page B5.

[7] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter absorbs a painful loss,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 24, 2005: Page B5.

[8] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter absorbs a painful loss,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 24, 2005: Page B5.

[9] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter absorbs a painful loss,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 24, 2005: Page B5.

[10] Joe Strauss, “Carpenter is blaming head, not arm,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 27, 2005: Page D5.

[11] Joe Strauss, “Cardinals trumped again,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 29, 2005: Page D5.

[12] Joe Strauss, “A win, for starters,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 5, 2005: Page C2.

[13] Joe Strauss, “Cards, Carpenter squeeze Astros,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 13, 2005: Page D1.

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

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.


Enjoy this post? Find similar stories listed by decade or by player. You can also enter your email below to get new posts sent directly to your inbox!


[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.

 

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.


Enjoy this post? Find similar stories listed by decade or by player. You can also enter your email below to get new posts sent directly to your inbox!


[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.