Carpenter's journey reaches pinnacle
After missing two seasons, righty ready for All-Star stage
DETROIT -- The Cardinals' contingent to the All-Star Game arrived at around 4 a.m. CT Monday, but that's nothing compared to the journey right-hander Chris Carpenter took to becoming the National League's starter.In fact, now that he has arrived in Detroit, Carpenter might have to pinch himself when it's time to deliver the first pitch to the stacked American League lineup on Tuesday. "You dream to play Major League Baseball," Carpenter said Monday at the press conference officially announcing his selection as the starting pitcher for Tuesday night's game. "You dream to just play in an All-Star Game, nevermind start one." Come Tuesday night, Carpenter will be living that All-Star dream, and taking to a new level the Major League one that was so rudely interrupted by injury. Coming off a 2004 season that earned him Comeback Player of the Year honors from pretty much anyone who hands out that kind of thing, Carpenter has been brilliant in 2005, going 13-4 with a 2.41 ERA for the NL Central-leading Cardinals. Considering the 2002 and 2003 seasons were essentially lost to a pair of shoulder surgeries, getting to this point wasn't necessarily a joyous journey for Carpenter. That said, Carpenter's battle back from there to getting the ball at the start of the annual gathering of baseball's elite certainly is something for which Cardinals teammate Jim Edmonds has an appreciation. "It'll be special," said Edmonds, the Cards center fielder making his fourth All-Star appearance. "I don't think people really know what it's like to be out and hurt for two years like he was and come back not knowing how you're going to be. Then to pitch the way he's pitching, it's been amazing."
In 2004, Carpenter showed he was back from the shoulder problems, going 15-5 with a 3.46 ERA in 28 starts. He missed the last two weeks of the regular season with what turned out to be nerve irritation in his upper arm, but the impression was made: Carpenter was back.Carpenter, 30, was one of the top pitching prospects in baseball coming up through the Toronto system, so his success when healthy isn't much of a surprise. Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek, who played against Carpenter going back to their days in Double-A, is among those who have had their eye on the 6-foot-6 right-hander ever since. "I've always liked his stuff," Varitek said Monday. "He's got powerful stuff, and he's been able to harness it. He just had some health issues that kept him out, and, for anyone, health is first and foremost." St. Louis and National League skipper Tony La Russa said it wasn't easy to make the call to start Carpenter, what with Roger Clemens, Dontrelle Willis and others putting up first-half performances very much worthy of consideration. As for Willis specifically, there was a method to La Russa's thinking. "We put a lot of things together," La Russa said. "Honestly, there was one edge we hoped to play, and that was knowing that [the Marlins' Paul] Lo Duca would be catching part of the game and we'd have him to catch Dontrelle. So we'll see Dontrelle there somewhere in the middle." Added Edmonds: "Hopefully, Carp gets the recognition he deserves and we're not talking so much about who else could have started. Dontrelle's going to have a few more chances, and this is later in Carp's career, so this is big for him." The only thing that might have been bigger for Carpenter would have been squaring off against one of his best friends -- Jays ace Roy Halladay. But Halladay was knocked out of the All-Star Game when a line drive in Friday's game fractured his left tibia. "I actually talked to him the morning after he got hurt and we were out in San Francisco," Carpenter said. "I didn't know I'd be a starter, but I thought he would." Both deserved it, and a healthy Carpenter got it. "I think it's really a well-deserved honor, and it says a lot when you consider the guys we considered," La Russa said. The road Carpenter traveled to get there says even more.
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.