It is common among baseball fans to remember where they were when significant contests are played. For example, I had the pleasure of being in the Citi Field press box last June 1st when Johan Santana threw his no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Yet that gem was not the best pitched game I have ever seen. That had to be the winner-take-all Game 5 of the 2011 National League Division Series.
Well, that is not completely accurate. Though I had fully intended to be at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park that night, major surgery trumped my trip. Instead, still a bit woozy, I watched aces Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals and Roy Halladay of the Phillies on the small television in my hospital room.
The two pitchers came up together in the Blue Jays system years ago and remain close friends.
On that night, October 7, 2011, they were on top of their respective games, taking no prisoners. 17 months later, they are each at a career crossroads as injury and high mileage are taking their toll.
In the 2011 NLDS Game 5, St. Louis got to Doc for a single run in the top of the first as leadoff man Rafael Furcal tripled and scored on a Skip Schumaker double. Halladay scattered just four singles and a free pass for the next 7 2/3 while fanning seven Cardinals.
Carpenter was even better, though, throwing a complete game shutout on three hits and no walks. With co-ace Adam Wainwright out that season, the then-36-year-old Carpenter was ridden hard by future Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa.
In the regular season, the oft-injured Carpenter threw a career-high 237 1/3 innings followed by another 36 in October as he helped pitch the Cardinals to his and their second World Championship in six years.
Once the parade was over, the 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner was unable to pitch in 2012, sidelined by thoracic outlet syndrome. The right-hander unexpectedly returned in September after surgery that removed a rib and rerouted nerves. He made three starts to close the regular season and three more in the playoffs, but was not himself.
Carpenter’s symptoms returned during 2013 spring training. Unwilling to consider additional surgery and equally unwilling to formally retire, the warrior was in self-defined limbo.
After two rough outings to begin this season, Halladay’s prospects were looking up. The right-hander settled in, allowing just four earned runs over his next 21 innings before ending April with another clunker.
The two players’ trajectories changed dramatically this week when it was disclosed that Carpenter is again throwing, with the goal of returning to active duty in late-June or early-July. He threw 75 pitches in a Friday bullpen session, including his full repertoire of offerings, with no discomfort.
On the other hand, Halladay is scheduled for Wednesday surgery and is expected to be out for at least three months. Like Carpenter, he met with the media on Friday. Doc’s message was more an apology to the Phillies fans while Carpenter was optimistic.
Perhaps as a bit of an emotional reaction, I had placed a minimum $1 bid for Carpenter in NL Tout Wars last weekend. I can stash him on my disabled list indefinitely, but did have to absorb a week of no stats from that active roster spot.
Even if he can return, Carpenter’s probable role would be as a reliever. Yet any innings he could give the Cardinals would be a huge lift to a club that has dealt with uneven bullpen work – and a boon to my Tout bid.
Ironically, as the week opened, Carpenter became the second disabled pitcher on my active Tout roster. There, he joined his pal Halladay.
To be honest, I did not sit down at the table on draft day with a plan to take Halladay, a two-time Cy Young Award winner. I knew about the reports of decreased velocity, yet remembering his past glory, I ended up bidding $15 on the 35-year-old and won. After all, one aspect of my 2013 draft strategy had been to go after past injury risks, but perhaps in this case, I took the risk-reward equation too far.
Following his 2011 NLDS defeat to Carpenter, Doc was able to make 25 starts last season but missed a month and a half with a strained muscle in his upper back. His 4.49 ERA was his worst in over a decade.
Halladay lugging an 8.79 ERA through seven starts in 2013 caused early-season suffering for many a fantasy owner, including myself. An admission of shoulder soreness led to a trip to the DL on Monday. Arthroscopic surgery is next to remove a bone spur and repair a partially torn rotator cuff.
Though he hopes to return in August and is speaking like his career could be extended by two or three more years, there are more questions than answers at this point.
Of course, you already know my message to you – draft and spend with your head and not your heart. My $1 bet on Carpenter is trivial compared to the $15 spent on coupled with the poor return from Halladay to date.
If you are in a FAAB reclaim league and must make a decision now, getting your Halladay investment back is probably the best move. Then your problems shift to trying to find comparable value in the free agent market.
Only time will tell if either of the two warriors will make it back to anywhere near their past dominance in their final year under their current contracts. Yet somehow it seems fitting I own them both. I just wish above all that they end their distinguished careers on their own terms.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.