Matt Carpenter, a Yankees hat over his graying head, wiped his tears.
“Sorry,” Carpenter said on Friday afternoon. “I didn’t want to do that. Sorry guys.”
The former Cardinals All Star has made it clear how he’s still pulling for the Cardinals—outside this weekend of course. He shared how excited his kids were to hear about this journey when his voice caught on. Carpenter ran his hand over a face that replaced his signature beard with a stunning mustache. (New team. New rules.) He drank a big gulp of water and cleared his throat.
“They are happy to be back,” Carpenter concluded.
An emotional weekend for Carpenter and the Cardinals was underway.
Three hours later, after holding nails in a visitors locker room he’d never visited before, Carpenter walked toward the batter’s chest at Busch Stadium. He was the designated hitter for the best attack in baseball. He was scoring third, right behind Aaron Judge and 43 points at home.
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A 45-second standing ovation and a header from Yadier Molina greeted him. More tears.
Carpenter put the familiar dirt in his bare hands. He did the full count against Dakota Hudson. He worked the Hudson diver into the right field for a single and greeted Paul Goldschmidt at first base. More cheers.
Happiness is and should be the dominant sentiment at this weekend’s meeting.
Carpenter’s impressive comeback with the Yankees after the Cardinals understandably rejected his 2022 contract option, combined with the Yankees’ first trip here since 2014, provided an opportunity for the player who should one day make the Cardinals Hall of Fame and a fan base that enjoyed the majority of Carpenter’s surviving career. 11 seasons at the Cardinal reunited on much better terms.
Carpenter’s career with the Cardinals was too long and too good to be defined by what became a baffling, frustrating, and confusing end.
That doesn’t mean we can’t talk about that ending.
The cardinals have to do more than talk about it.
Carpenter looked cooked when the Cardinal declined to pick the $18.5 million club option. you think so. I thought it. He insists he doesn’t think so.
If he’s wrong, this story will be the story of a lifelong cardinal who got a bad stretch. His downfall could have been a byproduct of misplaced loyalty in the front office, and nothing more. Ends, especially the snap ones, are rarely beautiful. But Carpenter, who is nearly 37 years old, is not cooked up despite his low to average league production that started after his impressive season in 2018 and festered during the worst of his career in 2021. He was falter and badly damaged, but he didn’t. Out . Look at him now.
Now you know the story. Carpenter toured the country determined to fix his swing. He’s worked with several swing teachers, including former Cardinals teammate Matt Holliday, who played a big role in Carpenter’s recovery. He landed a minor deal with the Rangers back home and began finding success and repeating in the AAA class. Rangers couldn’t find a place for him, but the best MLS team did, and now Carpenter is back with the hottest of the strongest salsa.
He reached St. Louis with a batting average of 322, 0.435 on base and 791 batting average. Entering this series, he had 15 doubles, nine doubles and 36 RBI – in just 43 games with the Yankees.
The possibility of a Carpenter repair can now be announced already. It’s too late for that to happen with the Cardinals. It’s not too late for the cardinals to analyze if they could have done something different.
Oli Marmol, the Cardinals’ first-year manager and once a junior roommate with Carpenter, knows the Carpenter debates raging these days. He is cautious about the subject for this reason. But he acknowledged that cardinals could not preach curiosity one day and then ignore it the next, even if it meant poking at a sensitive topic.
“You’re not just looking,” said Marmol. Trying to figure out what we’ve missed? That’s my biggest fear. In my seat, my biggest fear is that someone’s potential isn’t unleashed and someone else can discover it. By far, the biggest fear. You lose a player because you lose patience with them, or they don’t. They play, and they go somewhere else and find out. Before that happens, you want to make sure you look under everything to make sure, man, we can’t find out.”
Unfortunately for the black and white audience, this case is not so simple. Carpenter has felt physically fine during the last sinking seasons here, but now admits he hasn’t been in a great place mentally. His confidence has been restored with a Grade AAA rejuvenation. The short porch of Sothbow’s Yankee Stadium is a good fit, but it’s not the answer alone. Carpenter is here with a 0.576 lag on the road this season.
Carpenter’s critics who suggest he forget this is the player who has insisted himself on a decade in the majors after being a thirteenth-round pick. He logged countless hours in cages fighting as he fell. However, the more he worked hard, the more hopeless things seemed.
Likewise, pointing fingers at Cardinals batting coach Jeff Albert ignores potential help that Carpenter wasn’t always in the right space to listen and receive. Then again, getting to a fighting player is a big part of the team’s strike mission.
What happened to Carpenter that didn’t happen here?
“Sometimes it’s different for you,” Carpenter said. “A lot of it was just me. Getting a new perspective. Getting some new ideas. Training in a different way. You can make an argument, for me, that maybe changing the scenery was a good thing. I dug myself a very big hole. It’s hard to get out of one when you go in.” The box and you feel like you’re not in a good place. So having that definitely helped. Mechanically, I really felt like I was back to what I was as a hitter. Some people helped me.”
Playing the blame game doesn’t help anyone.
The goal should be to figure out how to better help free fall hitters in the future.
Carpenter’s legacy doesn’t have to end here if his story can be used to improve the team’s operation to help struggling Cardinals before they become ex.