If this is the end for Chris Carpenter, as it appears it is, I can only tip my cap to one of the most memorable pitchers of the past decade. And one of the best. Five things that come to mind from his impressive career:
1. Outdueling Roy Halladay in the 2011 playoffs. The Cardinals had made a miracle run to reach the playoffs. They faced the 102-win Phillies in the Division Series and it came down to the final game, Carpenter against Halladay. Halladay was brilliant, going eight innings and allowing only a first-inning run. Carpenter was better, throwing a three-hit shutout, the first by a Cardinals pitcher in the postseason since Danny Cox in 1987. Go to your closer with a one-run lead? Not on that night. Ride your big guy.
2. Game 7 of the 2011 World Series. After leading the National League in innings pitched during the season and then starting five more games in the postseason, Carpenter was running on fumes, but Tony La Russa went with his veteran right-hander on three days of rest -- a start made possible because of a rainout between Games 5 and 6. Carpenter gave up two runs in the top of the first and who knows what would have happened if Ian Kinsler hadn't been picked off first base. But Carpenter gritted it out from there with five scoreless innings. He won the game -- he was 4-0 in six playoff starts -- and for the second time was the ace of a World Series champion.
3. His 2004 comeback season. After missing all of 2003 following labrum surgery, Carpenter's career was in jeopardy. The Blue Jays offered him only a minor league contract and the Cardinals took a chance. He rewarded them by going 15-5 with a 3.46 ERA, but a nerve problem in his biceps forced him to miss the postseason. Who knows; if Carpenter is healthy, maybe the Red Sox don't end the curse. The next season, Carpenter won the Cy Young Award.
4. His last victory. After missing nearly all of 2012, Carpenter returned to make three starts -- going 0-2. Mike Matheny had him in the postseason rotation anyway. He beat the Nationals in Game 3 of the Division Series, pitching on guts and instinct and who knows how much pain. Maybe the Cards should have stopped there. His last two games weren't vintage Carpenter and he lost twice in the NLCS, allowing five runs in four innings in both outings.
5. One of the greatest Cardinals pitchers. For a franchise with a storied history, they've had few long-term great starters other than Bob Gibson. Dizzy Dean had his short run of brilliance in the 1930s and Jesse Haines won 210 games and lucked into the Hall of Fame, but add Carpenter to that short list of Cardinals pitchers who came up big when it most counted -- Harry Brecheen and Mort Cooper and Max Lanier and, yes, Gibson.