10/06/11 7:55 PM ET
Game 5 the newest chapter between Carp, Doc
Longtime friendship takes center stage in winner-takes-all tilt
By Brian McTaggart / MLB.com
And there were definitely plenty of those nights.
There was no shortage of moments when Chris Carpenter and Roy Halladay -- their baseball livelihoods hanging in the balance at a young age -- poured out their souls to each other, wondering if they would ever attain the kind of success they would enjoy later in their careers.
Whether they were vacationing together with their wives or escaping for a few moments of solitude on a fishing boat or the golf course, away from the demands of baseball, they never stopped hoping and dreaming about one day being right where they are now.
On center stage.
In Game 5 of the National League Division Series.
The longtime friendship between Carpenter, the resilient ace of the Cardinals staff, and Halladay, the Phillies pitcher generally considered the best in the game today, will be put on hold for at least one day when the former Cy Young Award winners face off Friday night in a tantalizing win-or-go-home playoff game at Citizens Bank Park.
"Not only is Chris a good pitcher, but he's obviously a good friend," Halladay said. "You know, we've talked about this scenario. I think it's something we're both looking forward to. It's going to be a challenge. We haven't gotten chance to pitch against each other, and if you're going to do it for the first time, might as well be now."
How anticipated was this Game 5 matchup? Cardinals manager Tony La Russa spoke following Game 2 -- when the series was tied at 1 -- how great it would be to see Carp and Doc meet with a spot in the National League Championship Series on the line. He'll get his wish.
"I don't know if it's ever happened in an elimination game like this, that two guys who were teammates in the Minor Leagues and Major Leagues still maintain a friendship [faced off]," La Russa said. "The way we feel about competing against the Phillies and to have two pitchers of that caliber is classic. It's just a great opportunity and very exciting."
Carpenter and Halladay are cut from the same cloth. They're terrific competitors who learned the value of hard work and preparation early in their career while teammates with the Blue Jays, who drafted both right-handers within two years of each other.
Each had to overcome long odds -- Carpenter battled numerous health problems early in his career, while Halladay bounced between the Minor Leagues and Major Leagues while trying to find a way to get batters out. They were partners in misery and comrades in dedication.
"We went through a lot of the same issues at the same time, so there was a lot of conversation on not understanding what's going on, and why these things are [going on]," Carpenter said. "I think it was just being able to be a sounding board to one another and being able to stay, 'Listen, I'm going through the same things you're going through.'
"As young kids with high expectations, this game is hard. And if you can't control that stuff in your mind, you're going to have a hard time executing, and fortunately we were able to figure it out."
Both credit former Toronto teammate and 1996 American League Cy Young Award winner Pat Hentgen with helping them turn their careers around. He taught them how to carry themselves as professionals in the clubhouse and on the field and helped instill a strong work ethic.
"The torch got passed from [Roger] Clemens to Hentgen, and Hentgen to those two guys, and they were very close, very similar in terms of experience," said Brewers general manager Gord Ash, who was the GM of the Blue Jays from 1995-01. "They came up somewhat on the same path. Chris came up and had some initial success and faltered a bit and had to go to back to Triple-A. The same is well-documented with Roy. I think they competed with each other and they pushed each other. They were pretty intense and enjoyed the camaraderie off the field and pushed themselves on the field."
Carpenter, 36, was drafted 15th overall by Toronto in 1993 and Halladay, 34, 17th overall two years later. Carpenter was a step or two ahead of Halladay in the Minor League system early in their careers, but they were teammates at Triple-A Syracuse in 1997 and quickly formed a bond.
"I can't remember the first time I met him," Halladay said. "My guess it was probably Spring Training somewhere, but it was definitely because of Pat Hentgen. He was huge for both of us and was, for me, probably the biggest influence on my career."
Carpenter remembers struggling as a younger player and having Hentgen plop down beside him on a scrubby back field during Spring Training and giving him advice. Those were the days when veterans were tougher on the kids, so when someone of Hentgen's caliber reached out, you paid attention.
"He truly showed me how to be a professional, how to act on the day that you pitch, how serious you need to take that day, how important that day is for you," Carpenter said.
The Jays had Carpenter and Halladay in the same rotation for about four years, but neither was the pitcher he is now. Carpenter, the Blue Jays' Opening Day starter in 2002, wound up making only 13 starts before a series of injuries led to Toronto designating him for assignment after the season. The Cardinals signed him for the Major League minimum two months later.
"We had both been doing pretty good there in the last year he was there, and he had some shoulder issues and ended up having surgery," said Halladay, who won the AL Cy Young in 2003. "I remember him talking to me and saying that he had been offered a pretty good deal in St. Louis.
"You hate to see a guy like that go, but you realize that it's a great opportunity for him in his career to go. I wish he would have been there longer, but he went off and won a World Series and a Cy Young, did some good things. I was happy for him."
The strong relationship between Carpenter and Halladay was appreciated by former teammates like Eric Hinske, who was traded to the Blue Jays before the start of the 2002 season.
"They were best friends and they were always together, whether we were at home or on the road," he said. "You never saw one without the other. It seemed like they fed off of each other. It was like a competition between buddies. They wanted to see each other do well. But they also wanted to one up the other when they had the chance."
Carpenter has won 144 career games, including 95 in eight years with the Cardinals. He went 21-5 in 2005 and won his only NL Cy Young Award. Halladay won 148 games in 12 years with Toronto before being traded to the Phillies following the '09 season. In his first year in Philadelphia, he went 21-10 and threw a perfect game en route to his second Cy Young. He then threw a no-hitter in the playoffs.
"They've both faced challenges and met adversity head-on and battled through it," Ash said.
Through adversity came friendship, and through friendship came success. Now comes the ultimate competition.
Carpenter and Halladay have talked some in the days leading up to Friday's game, but friendships are on the back burner now. This is about competing and keeping a season and a dream alive and moving a step closer to winning the World Series.
When the season is over, there will be plenty of time for the two to reminisce. There's even an offseason fishing trip in the works.
"No, we'll be able to talk about it I'm sure, no question about it," Carpenter said. "I mean, we're still friends, even though we're competitive and want to win. It's not going to end anything."
Brian McTaggart is reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. Mark Bowman contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.