ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) — It took the Cardinals until their 14th inning of action facing Phillies starter Aaron Nola to put a runner on second base against him this season. Once they broke the seal in the fifth inning Thursday, the next significant blow came from an unlikely source.
Pinch-hitting for Cardinals starter Kwang Hyun Kim with two men aboard in the fifth inning, Matt Carpenter put a good swing on the baseball. That designation, as Cardinals fans know, hasn’t typically been enough to produce a positive result for Carpenter this season. Despite leading the team in average exit velocity on his balls in play, the long-time St. Louis infielder entered the day 3-for-41 on the year, with a troubling batting line of .073/.220/.146.
“It feels like I was due for catching a break,” Carpenter said Thursday.
In recent days, he had fallen out of favor for opportunities in the starting lineup. Though his hard-hit rate remained strong, Carpenter’s strikeouts had ballooned without many positive outcomes to justify the trade-off. Relegated to a role off the bench, Carpenter's days have consisted of staying ready for that one moment in the game where he might be called upon to try to make an impact--and potentially turn around his campaign.
Given the tough luck that has characterized his season, there couldn’t have been many inside Busch Stadium Thursday who felt his fortunes were about to turn in the moment that Phillies right fielder Roman Quinn had the deep fly ball off Carpenter’s bat sitting in the palm of his outstretched glove.
A leap and a reach over the wall in front of the Cardinals bullpen put Quinn in prime position to rob Carpenter of yet another hit—and this one looked like it was going to be a dagger.
“Adam Wainwright texted me from home and said that if he would have caught that ball, he would have retired,” Carpenter detailed, before sharing his response.
“I said, ‘No, I’m pretty sure I would have retired if he would have caught that ball.’” Carpenter replied. The quip—delivered in a light-hearted way rather than a news-breaking one—helps to contextualize the weight he has carried as a result of his recent struggles.
But as Cardinals reliever Andrew Miller stared intently at the scene playing out before him, Quinn failed to get his glove closed around the baseball to secure it for the out. His momentum jostled the ball loose, allowing it to fall into the bullpen to the delight of Miller and the rest of the Cardinals relievers.
Oh, and Carpenter. Carpenter was probably as delighted—and as relieved—as anyone.
“I was saying the Lord’s prayer, hoping that thing would not get caught,” Carpenter said. “Then my stomach dropped when I felt like he had it in his glove. Then, obviously, really fired up when I saw the reaction of the bullpen, which was what led me to know that he didn’t have it.
“A whirlwind of emotions, but certainly glad that he didn’t come down with it.”
The 13,159 fans at Busch Stadium were also pretty amped about it, refusing to cease their celebration until Carpenter re-emerged from the dugout for another curtain call. His batting average might still be under .100, but Carpenter is batting 1.000 when it comes to curtain calls per home run—he’s 2-for-2 in that category this season.
“I think you get a glimpse of the quality of fans that we have,” Mike Shildt said of the fan response to Carpenter’s blast. “In the sense that they’re smart, knowledgeable baseball fans and they also—this is a hard-working, high value (on) character part of the world. I think they’ve recognized that this guy’s done a lot of good things for this organization, has given all the effort that he wants to give, and has not been rewarded. I appreciate the fact that they’ve been supportive—not blindly, because we don’t deserve blind support—but appropriate support and excitement not only for the moment, but for Matt.”
Excited as he was to watch Carpenter’s home run from his front-row seat in the bullpen, Andrew Miller negated some of the homer’s impact with another trying outing Thursday. He faced only the minimum three batters, allowing a pair of doubles while recording a strikeout. Miller was charged with two earned runs, as Giovanny Gallegos permitted the inherited runner to score to tie the game and send it toward its eventual extra-inning finish.
Ultimately, the Cardinals won on a walk-off wild pitch in the 10th to ensure that Carpenter’s momentous homer—mere inches from having been a monumental disappointment—did not come in vain.
“It’s amazing all the different thoughts you can have in that short span,” Shildt said with a laugh of Quinn’s attempted robbery. “You see leather and ball hit and you have that split second of, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ And then you see it bounce off. Just the relief of that—for Carp and then, again, for us.”
Thursday's memorable moment notwithstanding, it's not a stretch to note that Carpenter’s skill set isn’t what it once was. Though he’s clearly still capable of putting a charge into a pitch every now and again, the consistency of his production likely won’t ever return to pre-2019 levels.
It’s conceivable, too, that Thursday’s event has implications on the upcoming lineups. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Shildt revert back to his natural inclination to get Carpenter going, and ride him for a couple of upcoming starts in the days ahead. That strategy hasn’t produced the desired effect in previous attempts at it.
For a player who carries as much equity in the Cardinals organization as this one, however, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team try to give Carpenter the chance to capture lightning in a bottle once again.
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