ST. LOUIS — Chris Carpenter doesn’t know if he will try another comeback next season. “I really don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said Wednesday.
But Carpenter has figured out what he will do the rest of this season.
He’ll take infield grounders before batting practice, he’ll cheer on the Cardinals from the dugout and he’ll make the rest of the road trips. In other words, he’ll enjoy his job.
As well he should.
Carpenter spent nearly six months, from February to late July, trying to come back yet again, this time from the same kind of nerve issues that cost him most of 2012. He actually made it as far as two rehab starts before deciding it just wasn’t going to happen. He could throw OK but nowhere close to the form that made him a Cy Young winner and one of the greatest pitchers in franchise history.
By the time he walked off the mound in Memphis on July 20, his comeback attempt was over. While certainly disappointed to fall short in his attempt to get back on a big league mound, Carpenter also felt some kind of comfort in the realization he had done as much as possible.
Now he had to accept that he was finished.
“There’s frustration and disappointment and it takes time to get over it,” he said.
But there’s also the rest of the season and the Cardinals, with or without him, have been enjoying quite a successful one. So rather than stay home and sulk, Carpenter decided to try to have some fun.
“If this is the last time I’m going to be part of a team, I wanted to put this uniform on, go out there and enjoy the Major League Baseball atmosphere and experience,” he said. “I wasn’t going to let 2 1/2 or three months slip by, depending on how far we go. If we’re fortunate enough to go to the playoffs, I did not want to not enjoy my last little bit of time doing what I’ve been doing my whole life.”
So when Cardinals manager Mike Matheny asked Carpenter to join the team on their last road trip, the 38-year-old said yes.
“He hesitated a little, but I think he came with us and realized two things,” Matheny said. “One, he probably did miss that kind of camaraderie and the other thing is that he realized he could bring value. Anytime you can bring value to a team at this level, there is a great sense of reward for that.”
If he had not exhausted his comeback efforts, though, Carpenter might have done what he did in spring training and stayed away from his team. Many injured players feel out of place as a bystander and Carpenter has endured more than his share of such times.
“Answering the question for myself about not coming back is what allowed me to get over that frustration and disappointment,” Carpenter said.
His teammates certainly are glad to have him coming around, and none more than Lance Lynn. When Lynn struggles to control his emotions on the mound, Carpenter can relate. He was known to scream in his glove or glare down an opponent a time or two. For Lynn, the similarly minded spirit in the dugout has given him someone to consult.
“The two years I’ve been in the rotation, I think he’s had only five starts,” Lynn said. “But we have become really close. We have a relationship where something is going on during a start, he’ll come up and say something to get me back to where I need to be. Someone who doesn’t have that mindset might not want to say anything because you don’t want to mess with a guy. But he knows what I need to hear.”
For Carpenter, the big brother role never will beat competing on the mound, but it’s the best he can do for now.
“I’m giving my best effort to be cheerleader and role model,” Carpenter said. “Hopefully, I can help some of these guys. It’s been fun.”
Let’s hope so. After all he’s done and tried to do, he deserves that much.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.