ST. LOUIS -- Talk about a unique talent. Chris Carpenter managed to enjoy a comeback season and a breakthrough season all in the same year. On Tuesday, Carpenter was named National League comeback player of the year by The Sporting News. The award is voted on by Major League players.
Carpenter was emerging as one of the game's top young pitchers in 2002 when he encountered shoulder problems. He pitched only 73 1/3 innings that year, signing with the Cardinals the following offseason. He hoped to get back on the mound in the second half of '03, but a setback meant he went the entire year without pitching in a big league game.
Yet not only did he crack St. Louis' rotation in 2004, he was the team's best starter. The big right-hander with the varied repertoire went 15-5 with a 3.46 ERA in 28 starts, striking out 152 against 38 walks over 182 innings. He missed the season's final two weeks, plus the postseason, due to a rare nerve injury in his arm. However, he's expected to be fully recovered for next season.
"It's definitely an honor," Carpenter said. "I'm glad I was able to get back to where I'm at. I just wish I could have finished it out. I'm happy with the way my season went, but a lot of the credit goes to the guys surrounding me."
That Carpenter was able to pitch regularly at all, never mind putting up such strong numbers, caught the attention of both teammates and opponents this year. He led St. Louis starters in ERA and strikeouts, while allowing the fewest hits and walks of anyone in the team's rotation. Carpenter posted the fifth best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the National League.
"It's just a great story," said catcher Mike Matheny. "The guys who played with him before, when he was playing in Toronto, realized what a great talent he was. We realized how hard it was for him last year.
Chris Carpenter / P
Weight: 230 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
"He came in and surprised a lot of people, but not the people who have seen him play before. He's a gamer and he's got great stuff and he worked hard to get back from where he was. It's good to see him get rewarded for that."
Right-hander Cal Eldred may know more about pitching through adversity than any St. Louis pitcher. The veteran reliever didn't pitch a full season in any year between 1997 and 2003.
"The first thing I would say about Carp is that mentally, he was there all year," Edlred said. "Everybody wants to talk about the physical part, but mentally it's tough when you spend basically almost two years rehabbing. To be mentally there as a starting pitcher every five days -- which he was -- is pretty amazing. The second thing is that he was able to pitch as effectively as he did. Those are the two things that stand out to me."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.