As noted in this very space, veteran right-hander Chris Carpenter has officially retired. My colleague Matt Snyder did a fine job of recounting his overall excellence after being gambled on by the Cardinals, his impressive knack for coming back from injury and his strong postseason reputation.
It's that last point that may be Carpenter's most enduring legacy. No, he's not a Hall of Famer -- he's not especially close to being a Hall of Famer, thanks largely to all the injuries. However, without Carpenter, the Cardinals very simply don't win the World Series in 2006 and 2011.
Here, for instance, are Carpenter's combined numbers for those two seasons: 459 innings, 3.27 ERA, 375 strikeouts, 90 unintentional walks. In terms of Baseball-Reference's WAR, Carpenter was worth 5.1 wins in 2006 and 3.5 wins in 2011. Now consider that the 83-win Cardinals in '06 won the NL Central by a mere 1 1/2 games over the Astros and in 2011 secured the NL wild-card berth by only a single game over the Braves.
Remove Carpenter's outputs from the calculus, and St. Louis doesn't even make the postseason in either of those years. When the margins are so tight, that can be said of a number of players, sure, but Carpenter's raw innings total shows what a fulcrum he was in the rotation during those seasons.
Now consider what Carpenter did in 2006 and 2011 once the playoffs began. In the 2006 playoffs, Carpenter went 3-1 in five starts with a 2.78 ERA, and in '11 he went 4-0 across six starts with an ERA of 3.25. Buried within those numbers are three starts that have a place in franchise lore. To wit ...
•In Game 3 of the 2006 World Series against the Tigers and the series tied 1-1, Carpenter twirled a gem: 8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 6 K, 0 BB. St. Louis prevailed by a score of 5-0.
•Fast forward to the deciding Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS against the heavily favored, 102-win Phillies. In what turned out to be 1-0 series-clinching win for St. Louis, Carpenter pitched a three-hit shutout, struck out three, walked none and allowed just two base-runners to reach scoring position. Perhaps most impressive of all is that he out-pitched Roy Halladay.
•Game 7 of the 2011 World Series against the Rangers ... Carpenter, who had already pitched well in Games 1 and 5, took the ball on three-days' rest opposite Matt Harrison. Carpenter surrended a pair of runs in the first but narrowly avoided the quick hook. To reward the faith of manager Tony La Russa, Carpenter proceeded to toss five straight scoreless frames and allow the Cardinals to come back and take the lead for good.
•In his start against the Tigers noted above, Carpenter notched a game score of 82, which is the seventh-highest such figure in Cardinals postseason history. In his start against Halladay and the Phillies in 2011, his game score was 84, which is good for the fourth-highest figure in franchise postseason history.
No doubt, Cardinal fans will always remember him as a pitcher whose resolve and steadfastness allowed him to rescue his career at age 29 and come back, time and again, from serious arm maladies. Beyond all that, though, they'll remember Chris Carpenter as a pitcher without whom the Cardinals' 10th and 11th World Series titles would not have been possible. The guess here is that Carpenter will take that over an alternate reality of better health and the Hall of Fame.