"When you refer to somebody as being a great this or great that, and you have to give examples of why, so people understand it, for him, this kind of season is an example of how great a pitcher he is," manager Tony La Russa said.
Carpenter's 2009 season stands on its own, in any context. He went 17-4 with a 2.24 ERA, pacing the National League in winning percentage and ERA. He struck out 144 against 38 walks, allowed seven home runs all year, and fell just short of a fourth 200-inning season. He's almost certain to be one of the top three finishers in Cy Young balloting, and he's going to start Game 1 of the Division Series for St. Louis on Wednesday.
"If you're talking about season-wise, I did everything I could, every time out," Carpenter said after his final start of the regular season Thursday in Cincinnati. "I definitely feel like I could have been better, but you take what you do, and as long as you can look yourself in the mirror and say that every time you pitched, you gave it your best shot, you can live with that. You can sleep at night."
If he'd just had an off year in 2008, or missed some time with a sore leg or something like that, he'd be a candidate to be considered as the Comeback Player of the Year. But of course, it was much more than that. Before '09, the last time that Carpenter was fully healthy for any length of time was the 2006 playoffs.
2009 COMEBACK PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
|Here are the voting results for the American League and National League Comeback Player of the Year awards.|
|Aaron Hill, TOR||14||5||3||88|
|Victor Martinez, BOS||6||9||6||63|
|Michael Cuddyer, MIN||3||5||4||34|
|Jorge Posada, NYY||3||4||4||31|
|Russell Branyan, SEA||3||3||2||26|
|Scott Podsednik, CWS||1||1||2||10|
|Juan Rivera, LAA||1||4||7|
|Rajai Davis, OAK||1||2||5|
|Andruw Jones, TEX||1||1||4|
|Travis Hafner, CLE||1||1|
|Fernando Rodney, DET||1||1|
|Chris Carpenter, STL||27||2||141|
|Yovani Gallardo, MIL||9||3||30|
|Josh Johnson, FLA||8||1||25|
|Todd Helton, COL||1||4||4||21|
|Aaron Boone, HOU||2||3||13|
|Pedro Martinez, PHI||3||4||13|
|Luis Castillo, NYM||1||4||7|
|Jeff Weaver, LAD||2||6|
|Jonny Gomes, CIN||1||3||6|
|Peter Moylan, ATL||6||6|
|Mike MacDougal, WSH||2||2|
Coming off an outstanding 2006 season that culminated in a World Series title, Carpenter started Opening Night in 2007 and then did not pitch again all year. He came down with elbow discomfort before his second start, and underwent elbow surgery. When he tried unsuccessfully to come back to the active roster following that operation, it was determined that he would need Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery.
He had that surgery in July 2007, and was out until midseason '08. A brief and effective return in the summer of '08 -- four games, three starts, a 1.76 ERA -- was aborted when he felt something amiss in his shoulder. It turned out to be a nerve problem in the back of the shoulder, similar to the condition that kept him out of the 2004 playoffs, and he shut it down once again.
When Carpenter came to Spring Training in 2009, nothing was certain. And then he blitzed the Grapefruit League, pitched well early in the year and clearly established himself as the same pitcher he had always been. Even after a five-week disabled-list stint due to a strained oblique muscle, he came back as strong as ever. Now Carpenter is in line for another postseason, he's won another award, and more may be on the way.