Thursday, July 7, 2011

The rollercoaster ride is still in motion

Today, Larry Toman, an avid and knowledgeable baseball fan and regular commenter here on Late Innings is taking John’s regular spot. He’s written a terrific piece which is what being a ball fan is all about. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. Thanks, Larry!

Some baseball memories remain so vivid that it’s almost like they happened yesterday.

This one takes us back to September 12, 1999. It would be an historic day in Detroit at Tiger Stadium, as the Toronto Blue Jays were to play their final game at the venerable old ballpark at Michigan Avenue and Trumbull. Steeped rich in history and tradition since 1912, the stadium would be scheduled for demolition at the end of the season.

On this day, I would have the great fortune of taking in the game with my dear friend John “The Tomahawk” Trembath and his wonderful dad, Jack. As we were heading for the exits following a 5-3 victory by the Blue Jays, we luckily stumbled upon several players in the corridor waiting for their bus to be loaded for the trek back to Toronto. With the exception of a few big name stars, the players were very accommodating as they mingled and signed autographs with the fans. Standing over in a corner all by himself was a tall boyish-looking player who looked uncomfortable and out of place. At that moment I decided to approach him, shake his hand, and get his autograph. I had just met who would become one of my favourite players of all time; Chris Carpenter, a 24-year-old pitcher.

From that day forward I would closely follow his rollercoaster career. The highly-touted prospect was taken in the first found, 15th overall, of the 1993 amateur draft by the Toronto Blue Jays.

Carpenter would make his major league debut with the Jays on May 12th, 1997 at the Metrodome in Minnesota. Unfortunately, Carp’ got bombed and surrendered 8 hits, 7 runs (5 earned) in a brief 3-inning, 78-pitch outing that left him with a staggering ERA of 15.00. Final score: 12-2 Twins. As a very young 22-year-old, he finished his 1997 rookie campaign with a 3-7 record over 13 starts and 5.09 ERA.

He would make progress over the next two seasons. In 1998 and 1999 combined, Carpenter went 21-15 over 48 starts, logged 325 innings, and posted a near identical ERA in each season, of 4.37 and 4.38, respectively.

In 2000 and 2001, he would post double-digit win totals in each year, but also double-digit losses, to go a combined 21-23. There were rumblings from the Jays brass as to where Carpenter was headed. Although he was always thought of as a future front-of-the-rotation arm, his tenure with the Jays would finish at the end of the 2002 season. He was removed from the 40-man roster and offered a minor league incentive deal which he declined.

The free agent door had just swung open, and his rollercoaster career would now take him to the National League, after being signed by the St.Louis Cardinals prior to the 2003 season.

Pitching in 2003 was not in the Cards, as a torn labrum would shelve him for the entire season. The injury woes that began in Toronto were continuing to follow him in St.Louis.

The 2004 season would prove to be a comeback year for the flamethrower, as he went an impressive 15-5, while posting a very respectable ERA of 3.46 (the lowest of his career at the time). Nerve problems would keep him out of the World Series.

Coming back with the roar of a lion, Carp’ had a spectacular 2005 season, setting career-highs in the following categories: wins (21), ERA (2.83), strikeouts (213), innings pitched (241.7), complete games (7), and shutouts (4). The icing on the cake for Carpenter after a dominating campaign was being named the Cy Young Award winner.

The good fortune would continue to roll in 2006. Carpenter went 15-8, with a 3.09 ERA and helped guide the Cardinals to a World Series date with the Detroit Tigers. And Carpenter’s first career World Series start was an impressive one, pitching eight strong innings of three-hit ball, with no runs allowed. A World Series ring would follow.

However, his rollercoaster career would rear its ugly head and veer down the wrong track -- again. Disaster would strike Carpenter in a big way. He would pitch opening day on April 1, 2007 and in a loss to the New York Mets, his season was over. He would require Tommy John surgery, followed by another procedure to remove bone spurs.

After 486 days, he would return and pitch four innings (getting a no-decision) in a Cardinals 7-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves on July 30, 2008. Plagued on and off by persistent injuries and repeated stints on the disabled list, he would make only four starts in the two seasons of 2007-08.

A marvellous rebound would occur yet again in 2009, as he went 17-4 with a stingy 2.24 ERA (a career best). His 2010 season would continue positively as he posted a 16-9 record, with a 3.22 ERA.

Carpenter’s current campaign of 2011 has endured more potholes, although he is coming off one of his most impressive starts of the season.

On July 5, he threw a gem, going eight innings while winning a 1-0 game over the Cardinals’ arch rival, Cincinnati Reds, improving his record to 4-7 with an ERA of 3.74.

Could this be yet another turnaround? Only time will tell, but one thing is certain: There is no quit in Carp’.


John the Tomahawk Trembath said...

Great post Larry! I remember the day so well. A wonderful time to celebrate a storied ballpark. I hope the Carp can come back again. I am having a great time in the Shuswap, BC.

Rick Blechta said...

"I am having a great time in the Shuswap, BC."

Who cares, John?