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10/07/09 10:18 AM ET

Carpenter takes long road back to NLDS

Having sacrificed '07 and '08, Cards ace reaffirms greatness

LOS ANGELES -- To understand all that Chris Carpenter will take to the mound on Wednesday when he faces the Dodgers in Game 1 of the best-of-five National League Division Series, you have to first understand where the Cardinals starter has been.

He went from a 2006 season that culminated with a World Series championship to an '07 season that lasted one night. Two elbow surgeries followed.

His return in 2008 was limited to four appearances because of a nerve problem in his shoulder, an ailment that had already prevented him from pitching in the postseason four years earlier. A strained oblique muscle then cost him five weeks early this year.

Now healthy -- and not to mention downright dominant all year -- Carpenter gets the call, not only as a Game 1 starter, but also as this staff's ace and pulse.

"If there's one guy that kind of personifies this team, it's him," reliever Mitchell Boggs said. "If you're not as strong as he was, working every day to get to the point where he is now, it doesn't happen. I could see it from the first day I met him in Spring Training. There was just something about him. He was determined not to just get back, but to get back to what he was -- the dominant pitcher in the game."

After two seasons in which injuries kept him from accruing even a single Major League win, Carpenter won 17 of his 28 starts this season. His 2.24 ERA was a league best, as was his .810 winning percentage. And he could very well be making room for a second National League Cy Young Award in a few weeks.

"It's unbelievable," Ryan Franklin said of Carpenter's ascent back to being a premier pitcher. "He's such a competitor, he works hard and he sets such a good example for the whole team. The job he's done all year long, it's been tremendous. Every time he goes out there to take the mound, we have a chance."

Tale of the Tape: Game 1 Starters
Cardinals' Chris Carpenter Dodgers' Randy Wolf
Overall 28 GS, 17-4, 2.24 ERA, 38 BB, 144 K 34 GS, 11-7, 3.23 ERA, 58 BB, 160 K
Key stat Allowed 7 HR all year Went 6-1 in his last 10 starts
Career 8 GS, 5-1, 2.53 No appearances
2009 1 GS, 1-0. 2.25 18 GS, 4-3, 3.63
Career 2 GS, 2-0, 4.85 35 GS, 11-8, 3.99
2009 regular season 2 GS, 2-0, 1.80 1 GS, 0-1, 3.00
Career 6 GS, 5-0, 2.20 10 GS, 3-5, 3.64
Loves to face Rafael Furcal, 4-for-15, 0 XBH, 0 BB Mark DeRosa, 8-for-32
Hates to face Jim Thome, 7-for-24, 6 XBH Brendan Ryan, 3-for-5
Why he'll win 3-0 in 3 career Division Series starts Pitched well enough to beat them July 27
Pitcher beware Walk rate up a touch (but still very good) in September Holliday and Pujols have hit him well
Bottom line Has dominated the Dodgers It's his chance to be The Man

That's certainly an understatement from Franklin, who has watched Carpenter not only consistently give this team a chance, but also a darn good one. Since the start of June, the Cardinals have lost only four of the 17 times that Carpenter has taken the mound. That includes having Carpenter go 2-0 against the Dodgers.

"We're in the position we're in because of him," Boggs said. "To come back from what he's come back from and the questions surrounding whether he would even pitch again to then be the best pitcher in baseball this year, it's been incredible. It's been an outstanding influence on everybody. The way he competes rubs off on us."

In Carpenter's two starts against the Dodgers this season, he limited the league's best hitting club to three earned runs while striking out 10 in 15 innings. His career numbers against the Dodgers are even better. With a 5-0 record and 2.20 ERA in six starts, Carpenter has never seen L.A. win a game that he has started.

When asked about those results, Carpenter attributed his success simply to execution. Yet, the right-hander knows not to rely on that past success for Wednesday's opener -- just like he's not taking for granted where he is now, as he knows well where he had to come from to get here.

"This is what it's all about," Carpenter said. "This is why I do what I do. I work hard to get back and have the chance to play. This opportunity, this is a good team that we're about to face. But if you don't want to pitch in this situation, you need to go home. This is where it's all about. I'm excited about it. I'm glad that I get the opportunity."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.