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Carpenter lauded as one of Cardinals' all-time greats

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

November 21. 2013 8:22PM
St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter gives a signed baseball to Lily Moser, 3, of Loudon, during a 2011 visit to Childrens Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock in Manchester. (JOSH GIBNEY/UNION LEADER FILE)

ST. LOUIS — When Cardinals stalwart Chris Carpenter, the team's most decorated starter in the past decade, notified the club last weekend that he intended to retire, he official stated what he and team officials had long expected: that he wouldn't take the mound again as an active player.

Now the club can begin its pitch to make sure he doesn't leave the organization.

The Cardinals announced Wednesday that Carpenter, 38, had decided to end his career after 15 total seasons, the 2005 Cy Young Award, and 95 wins in 11 years with St. Louis. A persisting nerve condition kept him on the disabled list the entire 2013 season and led to his decision.

Carpenter did not attend a news conference at Busch Stadium, though the Cardinals expect him to speak publicly about his decision after Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, he'll be among the featured guests at the Granite State Baseball Dinner in his native New Hampshire on Saturday. Raised in Raymond, N.H., and educated at Trinity High School in Manchester, N.H., Carpenter makes an annual return to Manchester for the dinner, which benefits Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, one of his favorite charities.

Carpenter's presence in the dugout for Game 6 of the World Series won't be his last appearance with the club if the Cardinals have their way.

In early January, general manager John Mozeliak plans to meet with Carpenter about joining the front office or taking on some other role with the organization.

On Wednesday, Mozeliak said Carpenter will "go down as one of the greatest we've ever had."

"We think back to his career and what an amazing one it was for the St. Louis Cardinals," Mozeliak said at Busch. "He did so many things and was part of so many highlights. I think he really created a culture of higher expectations for this organization. For him to be a part of that era was really something that made us all better."

Carpenter retires with the franchise record in playoff victories (10) and a handful of rings — including two World Series championships and four National League titles. He compelled the Cardinals toward the 2011 World Series championship with an epic 1-0 victory in Game 5 of the National League division series, outdueling his friend and former Blue Jays teammate Roy Halladay for the shutout. Carpenter's demonstrative scream to the heavens at the end of the game will remain a perpetual part of club highlight reels. Carpenter started Game 7 of the World Series that same fall and was the winner as that team claimed the franchise's 11th title.

That was his penultimate win as a Cardinal.

Carpenter was limited to six starts and 30 2/3 innings in 2012 and did not throw a pitch for the big-league club in 2013 because of chronic nerve issues in his right shoulder. Carpenter experienced numbness in his right hand, a lack of strength, and fatigue as a result of the condition. In 2012, he had a rib removed to clear space for the choked nerves and was able to contribute 13 2/3 innings and a win against Washington in the 2012 playoffs. Weeks before spring training started this season he experienced familiar symptoms and notified the team that he would not be able to pitch.

An attempted comeback in the middle of the season was abandoned when he could not complete a rehab assignment. He had trouble maintaining strength into a start at Class AAA.

"He had been through so much to get back on the field so many times," agent Bob LaMonte said, referencing Carpenter's return from elbow and shoulder operations. "I think this last one got him. He had given the game enough."

LaMonte said that he has received some feelers from media outlets about Carpenter, but that he knew his client planned to talk with the Cardinals about options. Late in the season, Carpenter acknowledged that he was unlikely to pitch again but said he wanted to discuss it with his family after the World Series. He dialed Mozeliak over the weekend to let the general manager know about his decision. Travel schedules kept the two from meeting about a position within the organization, though "myriad things" had been talked about over the course of the season.

LaMonte said he wasn't sure if Carpenter would return immediately to the game or look to do so later in 2014 or after a full season.

Mozeliak said Carpenter's residing in St. Louis "is going to allow him to engage with the club more conveniently if he chooses."

The righty was lauded for his influence this season, without throwing a pitch.

"Everybody can go and look and see the statistics and the accomplishments, but how this guy went about his business to impact other people — to me that sets him apart as somebody really special," manager Mike Matheny said. "A guy like that with that kind of ability and that kind of makeup and that kind of clout and that kind of respect, hopefully he'll stay active in this organization and continue to help guys out for a long time."

Carpenter was Toronto's first-round pick, 15th overall, in the 1993 draft. Hours after his selection, he made his final pitching start for Trinity High and blanked Manchester West, 2-0, in a state tournament game.

He made his debut with the Blue Jays four years later, striking out Hall of Famer Paul Molitor for the first of 1,697 career K's. Injuries slowed his career with the Jays, and he signed with the Cardinals in 2002, though he didn't throw a pitch for the Cardinals until 2004. In 2005, Carpenter went 21-5 with a 2.83 ERA and won the club's first Cy Young Award since Bob Gibson. Carpenter would finish in the top three for the award twice in the next four seasons.

In 2009, he led the NL with a 2.24 ERA and won the game's Comeback Player of the Year award. The next season he received the third of his All-Star Game invites.

His five opening day starts tie Dizzy Dean for second behind Gibson's 10.

But beyond the raw stats was his fierceness on the mound, a competitive burn that spread through the Cardinals clubhouse and singed opponents. Adam Wainwright mimicked Carpenter's poise on the mound as a young pitcher. Michael Wacha said he borrowed from Carpenter's intensity to find his fire during October. It was after the Cardinals' victory on the obstruction call in Game 3 of the World Series that Carpenter helped reset a team unsure of why it won and whether Allen Craig had been injured. He shouted in the clubhouse: "Hey, boys, we just won a World Series game!"

More than his yells will echo.

"He will always be remembered as one of the great players in Cardinals history," chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said during Wednesday's news conference. "A core piece without whom we wouldn't have been (able to win) four pennants and two world championships during his tenure here as the leader of the pitching staff."