Chris Carpenter

How Chris Carpenter won the 2005 Cy Young Award (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]

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[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.