Competitive Carpenter tough as nails for Cards

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Chris Carpenter delivers a pitch to a Cincinnati Reds batter...

St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Chris Carpenter delivers a pitch to a Cincinnati Reds batter during the first inning of their MLB National League baseball game in St. Louis, Missouri October 2, 2012. (REUTERS)

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:30 AM ET

Whenever old Toronto Blue Jays fans see Chris Carpenter pitching in the post-season they grind their teeth in frustration.

On Wednesday afternoon, the right-hander with the big heart and a medical file as thick as a phone book will be back on the hill in a pivotal post-season game, making the start for the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3 of their National League division series against the Washington Nationals.

When the series started it was the Nationals who had their rotation set up the way they wanted while the Cardinals had to burn their ace, Kyle Lohse, by starting him against Atlanta in the wild-card playoff game.

That was perhaps the biggest advantage the youthful Nationals had. But now with the series tied 1-1, down to a best-of-three, the pitching matchups favour the Cards, even though all of the remaining games will be played in the Nats park.

For that you can thank Carpenter, who has defied all odds by making it back for three starts at the end of the season to set him up for this pivotal game.

In early July, Carpenter underwent surgery to repair a nerve problem in his shoulder that had sidelined him since spring training. The procedure involved removing his first rib and connecting muscles and cleaning out scar tissue. At the time it was announced as season-ending surgery and the question was would Carpenter ever be able to pitch again?

But here he is, back for the Cardinals, taking the ball when it matters most.

Last year, Carpenter was their horse and he finished the post-season with a 4-0 record including a win in Game 7 of the World Series.

Quit? He doesn't know how to quit and for his team he is the undisputed inspirational leader.

"Just having Carp around, period, makes the team better," manager Mike Matheny said. "He has been a very strong voice for us since the day he came back. And the fact that he came back was pretty remarkable considering the surgery and the timing he had.

"Then he comes out and he has thrown better every start he has had. To have somebody who is a Cy Young winner, has a couple of World Series championships under his belt, and to be able to put him in front of the team for a playoff series and just let him share something is invaluable."

Carpenter, 37, simply loves to compete and for that he harkens back to his Blue Jays roots.

"I played with some great players when I was young, some great players that I looked up to -- Pat Hentgen, Woody Williams, David Wells, Roger Clemens -- guys who were ultimate competitors in all kinds of different ways," Carpenter said Tuesday. "And I learned a lot from them, how important this game is, how important your day is. Every fifth day, you get one chance of making a statement or help your team in any way.

"I continue to make that important. And with all of these injuries and everything that has gone on in my career, I don't know. I wasn't ready to stop playing. I'm still not ready to stop playing. I enjoy the competition. I love going out and competing against the best in the world. And I know that some day it will end, but hopefully it won't end too soon."

Carpenter will give his team everything he has, but with just three starts under his belt he's not sure what exactly he will bring.

"What have I thrown, 17 innings or something? You know, that's not too many innings to work the kinks out in live games," he said. "But I'm confident in my stuff. My stuff has gotten better each time out. It was good last time against Cincinnati, and I'm looking forward to it being better this time out, too. It's hard to contrast. Like I said, I almost wish I had all the innings, because at least you know what you're going in with."

Certainly he will bring a lot of knowledge, a lot of savvy and a lot of heart.

It's October baseball and you know Carpenter will lay it all on the line.

More chills than thrills from Nationals' Harper

Maybe home cooking and the home crowd will light a fire under Nationals teenage sensation, Bryce Harper.

Washington's rookie phenom, who will turn 20 on Oct. 16, is a high-voltage, high-ceiling player. Think Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie and multiply by two.

No one knew how Harper would play in his first taste of the playoffs. He loves the stage and the spotlight and has skills galore, but after the opening two games Harper and his fans are still waiting for something positive to happen.

As the season wore down, Harper warmed up. From Aug. 29 through to the end of the season he hit .329 with eight doubles, 10 home runs and 22 RBI.

He also had great success against the St. Louis Cardinals, hitting .429 (12-for-28) with five extra-base hits.

After the first two games of the division series, though, Harper's biggest moment was a base-running faux pas.

In the opener on Sunday, Harper went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts.

In Monday's game, he struck out in his first three plate appearances but, in the seventh with a runner on first, he doubled to right-centre.

Then he ran into trouble, literally.

Ryan Zimmerman followed with a sacrifice fly to left and when Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday went to throw the ball back to the infield, he instead spiked the ball and had it bounce back. Seeing that, Harper took off for third -- hey Jay fans, have you seen this done by anybody you know? -- and he was easily thrown out.

After the game manager Davey Johnson gave him a little slap.

"That's inexperience," Johnson said. "Had a little rally going there and he was in scoring position and he tried to get to third and that kind of killed the rally we had going. Again, that's just a little inexperience. He's overly aggressive there.

"It was wrong to try to go to third."

In his final at-bat, Harper struck out for the fourth time and over two games is 1-for-10 with six strikeouts.

Asked after the game if he was being overly aggressive, Harper gave a snarky reply.

"Do you think so? Maybe you should be the hitting coach."

Lawrie couldn't have answered any better.


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