ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) — Even after all these years, there’s just something about Matt Carpenter with the bases loaded.
The 35-year-old infielder entered Wednesday’s game against the Cleveland Indians at Busch Stadium batting .483 (29-for-60) with an 1.187 OPS with the bases loaded in his career. Even during this week’s brutal losing streak for the Cardinals, Carpenter’s prowess with the bases loaded was on display when he doubled to deep center field to help power the team’s seven-run sixth inning on Sunday. That effort wasn’t ultimately enough to get the Redbirds out of their funk, as St. Louis fell to Cincinnati 8-7, but it was an example of Carpenter’s steadily increasing contributions in recent weeks.
When he stepped into the box for a pinch-hit appearance on May 21, Carpenter sported a paltry .108 batting average and .499 OPS—for context, the collective batting average for all MLB pitchers in 2021 is currently at .109. Since that moment, though, Carpenter has quietly reverted to his old, more successful self at the plate for St. Louis.
Despite the broader issues facing the team of late, Carpenter has been a positive force in his sporadic opportunities, compiling a .333/.450/.515 batting line since May 21. He punctuated that line in the bottom of the first inning Wednesday with the biggest hit by a Cardinal in more than a week—and arguably, the biggest hit by a Cardinal all season given the role it played in helping the club stop their longest losing skid of the year in an 8-2 win.
After Adam Wainwright permitted a pair of runs to lead off the game in the top of the inning, marking it the third day in a row the Cardinals found themselves trailing 2-0 before even taking their first at-bat, he said he immediately came off the field and told his dugout that things were going to be different the rest of the night.
“I came in the dugout afterwards and I said ‘They’re not scoring any more runs. I’m keeping it right there,’” Wainwright said.
Wainwright ultimately did his part, refusing to allow so much as another hit for the remainder of his seven-inning outing. Hearing the confidence in the starting pitcher’s voice after the top of the first, the St. Louis lineup wasted no time in determining this game wouldn’t go the way of the other recent losses.
“That was huge,” Mike Shildt said. “Gosh darn, you look up and it’s 2-0. There could have been that ‘here we go again.’ And the guys said, ‘No, it doesn’t have to be here we go again.’ We’ve got to figure that out.”
Tommy Two Bags—the leadoff man, Edman—got things going with his 15th double of the season to open the bottom of the first, but appeared at risk of being stranded at second after Dylan Carlson and Paul Goldschmidt recorded two quick outs to follow. That’s when the rest of the gang bore down, though, as a Nolan Arenado walk and Tyler O’Neill infield hit set up Yadier Molina with the bases loaded in his first plate appearance since Saturday afternoon.
Molina returned to the lineup following a knee contusion with every intention of making Cleveland starter Jean Carlos Mejia work for it if he intended to escape the first-inning jam. 10 pitches later, Molina had worked a pivotal walk to plate a run and set up the king of loaded bases with an opportunity to drive in a few more.
“For me, I think that was the at-bat of the game,” Carpenter said of Yadi’s walk. “That was the at-bat that changed the whole momentum of the game, the whole outlook of the game… I think it sets the tone. I don’t come up to the plate in that situation if he doesn’t take the at-bat that he had. Fouling off all those pitches, wearing this guy down. Fouling off some really tough pitches and then working that walk. I was able to find a rhythm, see more pitches and be able to get in there and face a guy who was worn down. Yadi just wore him down. He gets as much credit as I do for the hit because that was just a huge at-bat, a really professional at-bat by a great player.”
Since Carpenter brought it up, let’s talk about that hit. After seeing Molina work Mejia’s pitch count up over 30 for the inning, Carpenter strode into the batter’s box to do what he always seems to do with the bases loaded: Damage.
The veteran stroked a line drive over the top of the shifted infield, into the right field corner to clear the bases with what the signature Matt Carpenter hit, the bases-loaded double. Carpenter’s knock gave the Cardinals a 4-2 lead and increased his batting average with the bases loaded in his career to a preposterous .492 with an OPS of 1.214.
Since Carpenter came into the league in 2011, there have been two MLB players with a better bases-loaded batting average: Yuli Gurriel and Tony Wolters. But their sample sizes are a fraction of Carpenter’s.
So it’s not just narrative: In all of MLB, with a career-long situational sample size of this significance, you’re simply not going to find anyone as automatic as Matt Carpenter with the bases loaded.
“Well, I love my chances,” Wainwright grinned when asked what goes through his mind when he sees Carpenter stepping to the plate with the sacks jammed. “The guy is just very comfortable in that situation. I think it's just because he has such a great idea of the strike zone. Hitters that don’t swing at bad pitches have a really good chance in that situation because pitchers get tight sometimes. They don’t want to walk anybody and they end up throwing a ball down the middle. If they throw a couple of close pitches that he doesn’t swing at, the pitcher’s like, man, I don’t know what to do now. Then they groove one and he hits it. It’s just a great approach he has and it works out well in that situation.”
From his perspective, Carpenter explains it in a similar manner, adding that his confidence has been boosted in recent years by an awareness of his own success—turning his reputation as the king of this particular situation into a self-fulfilling prophecy, of sorts.
“I mean, I really don’t, I try not to treat it any differently,” Carpenter said, careful not to give away too much about the secrets to his wizardry. “For whatever reason, I think that particular spot suits my style of play. I’ve always been a guy that will take his walk and work a pitcher, waiting for my pitch.
“My confidence, I’d be lying to you if I said I hadn’t heard in the last couple years what my numbers are in that situation. So I would say that does add a little bit, knowing that you’ve been so successful in those moments. But prior to the last couple seasons, it was something I never really thought about. I just went up there and tried to take the same at-bat. But it’s worked out well.”
It worked out well for the Cardinals on Wednesday, as Carpenter's efforts helped St. Louis snap an ugly week-long losing streak just in time for a critical series against the Chicago Cubs this weekend at Wrigley Field.
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