The unrelenting pace of the postseason schedule only gave the Cardinals about 41 hours to enjoy Chris Carpenter’s performance in game five of the NL Division Series before they had another game to play on Sunday.
For everyone else, however, we get to savor the beauty of that game for a long time, remembering where we watched one of the greatest performances in MLB postseason history.
Two men in particular were glued to the television to watch the battle between Carpenter and the Phillies’ Roy Halladay to decide which team would advance to the NL Championship Series. Tim Wilken, now the scouting director of the Chicago Cubs, had that same position with the Blue Jays in the 1990s and was responsible for the team selecting both Carpenter and Halladay in the first round of the 1993 and 1995 drafts. Danny Cox met both pitchers about the same time while he was finishing his major-league career with the Blue Jays. Cox also had the distinction of being the last Cardinals’ pitcher to throw a shutout in the postseason, in game seven of the 1987 NLCS against the Giants.
Wilken watched the game with some other Cubs personnel at The Bonfire, a restaurant in Scottsdale,Ariz., while Cox was watching at his home in Freeburg,Ill. Neither will soon forget Carpenter’s 1-0 win over Halladay, his good friend and former teammate in the first game they have ever pitched against each other.
“That was a pretty darn good game,” said Wilken, “probably better than you could have expected. Needless to say it was a wonderful evening. Wow.
“It was two warriors and two wonderful human beings. Unbelievable.”
Cox had a similar reaction, especially with his personal knowledge of what each pitcher was feeling to be on the mound in a win-or-go home environment.
“That was a fun game to watch,” Cox said. “The thing about it was after Carpenter lost game two, a lot of things had to happen just for there to be a game five. That also happened to me. I lost game four, and we had to get the series to game seven for me to pitch again.
“When it happens it’s almost surreal. I’m sure he was thinking that he had a second chance, and now it was payback time. He wanted to redeem himself, and it worked out just like it did for me.”
Cox did not quite have the same pressure as Carpenter in his game 24 years ago, however. He was at home, starting against Atlee Hammaker, and was staked to a 4-0 lead in the second inning, thanks in large measure to a three-run homer by Jose Oquendo. He then cruised to a 6-0 victory.
“I had a little more to work with than Carpenter,” Cox said. “He’s like an Eveready battery out there. He just keeps going, and he always has the same face and the same demeanor.”
Wilken said he was a little worried about Carpenter before the game, wondering if his sub-par performance in game two was a sign that the wear and tear of the regular season was getting to the 36-year-old pitcher, who did pitch the most innings in the National League this season.
“In the back of my mind I was hoping it would be a good game,” Wilken said.
It turned out that Wilken did not need to worry. How good was this game? Here are just a few reasons why it will long be remembered:
*It was only the third time in MLB postseason history that a pitcher won the clinching game of a series with a 1-0 complete game victory. Ralph Terry of the Yankees did it against the Giants in game seven of the 1962 World Series and Jack Morris pitched 10 shutout innings for the Twins in beating the Braves in game seven of the 1991 World Series.
*Carpenter became the third pitcher in postseason history to throw a shutout, allowing three hits or less, in a clinching game. The other two were Johnny Kucks of the Yankees in game seven of the 1956 World Series, and Sandy Koufax of the Dodgers in game seven of the 1965 World Series.
*It was only the third complete game shutout ever pitched by a Cardinals pitcher in a clinching game in the postseason, joining games by Dizzy Dean in the 1934 World Series and Cox.
*It was the 42nd 1-0 game in MLB postseason history, but was only the second time the Cardinals won a game 1-0 in their 190 postseason games. That was game six of the 1987 NLCS versus the Giants, when John Tudor, Todd Worrell and Ken Dayley combined on the shutout.
*Carpenter had made 339 starts in his career before this game, including the regular season and postseason, and he had never won a 1-0 complete game.
*It was the first time the Phillies had lost a 1-0 game in their home stadium in three years.
It was a pretty special night indeed. Said Cardinal manager Tony La Russa, “I think he (Carpenter) will remember that forever, and so will the Cardinals’ fans.”
“We were talking about and it and Randy said that in that game, Tom Kelly, the Twins manager, had gone over to Jack during the game and said ‘Hell of a job,’ and Jack had a few adjectives and said, ‘I’m not done yet.’ I kind of had the feeling that if Tony had said something to Chris, he might have had the similar words to say,” Wilken said.
“You could see the determination in Chris’ face. The way relieving takes place today it was so much fun to watch a complete game and see how well Roy pitched. If you throw out his first seven or eight pitches, that’s a 0-0 game. For some reason the start of games has always been a little tough for Roy. It was unbelievable. I don’t see how it could get much better than that.”
Wilken knows that Carpenter, Halladay and former Cardinal pitcher Pat Hentgen, also a former teammate and close friend, likely will get together a few weeks from now on a fishing trip. This game certainly will come up, and probably the first thing Carpenter will want to talk about was his eighth-inning single off Halladay.
“I am sure that will come up,” Wilken said. “If Chris doesn’t bring it up I’m sure Pat will.
“It was a wonderful evening as far as being a viewer. I’m just glad I had the opportunity to know both of these gentlemen, and I say that with great respect. They are both wonderful human beings. I haven’t seen Chris for a while, and hopefully will run into him somewhere. I can’t say enough about both of them. Hopefully Chris Will Carry that torch all the way through the World Series.”