SAN FRANCISCO -- Adam Wainwright thought Matt Carpenter was getting a little carried away this spring when the Cardinals third baseman started proclaiming his ability to produce a 20-homer season. So Wainwright offered him a bet: Hit 20, Wainwright told Carpenter, and he would buy him a golf cart.
On the second pitch Carpenter saw in the team's 130th game, Carpenter secured himself his first 20-homer campaign and a new mode of transportation to use around his Texas home. His solo shot sparked a three-run first that the Cardinals rode to a 7-5 victory over the Giants on Sunday and left Wainwright, who was watching from the AT&T Park visitor's dugout, to research where he'd buy a purple golf cart for the Texas Christian University graduate.
"That's some fun significance," Carpenter joked about the milestone afterward.
The golf cart that Carpenter will soon get wasn't the drive behind his power surge, but it will be a tangible reminder of his ability to remold himself this season. In a year Carpenter has called his most frustrating because of extended slumps, increasing strikeout totals and a period of extreme fatigue, he has still asserted himself as the team's top run producer.
Not only did Carpenter become the club's first to hit 20 homers, but he also leads the Cardinals with 69 RBIs, 53 extra-base hits and 78 runs scored. He's done it while starting 50 games from the leadoff spot and 69 from the two-hole.
"There are going to be some times where you have to compromise -- maybe a few more swing and misses, but not many," manager Mike Matheny said, alluding to the fact that Carpenter also leads the team with 114 strikeouts. "I'd much rather have the guy who can continue to produce big like he has. It's been amazing to watch a guy kind of transform."
Carpenter believed the transformation possible after mashing four home runs last postseason. He had hit just eight during the regular season. Having already proven himself to be a capable leadoff hitter by his high on-base rate -- he ranked second among all leadoff hitters with a .386 OBP from 2013-14 -- Carpenter entered this season wanting to show himself more multidimensional.
He opened the season with 20 extra-base hits in his first 27 games before missing a series due to dehydration and an accelerated heart rate. Carpenter had a tough time garnering traction after his absence, but he has flaunted the power swing with more frequency during the season's second half.
Over hit last 37 games, Carpenter has tallied 11 doubles and 11 home runs.
"I don't want to sound like I'm doing it on purpose or have control of these things because I definitely don't, but missing guys like Matt Adams and [Matt] Holliday and guys who drive in runs, it's nice that I have been able to do that for us," Carpenter said. "It's been a strange season. I don't know how this came into play, but it has."