It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Chris Carpenter v. Roy Halladay. While it may be the Game 5 pitching matchup for the National League Divisional Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies, it also shows the fortunes of the Toronto Blue Jays. In fact, a quick thought indicates three Blue Jays draft picks pitching in NL Divisional Series’ (Shaun Marcum in Milwaukee would be the other).
Drafted in the first round of the 1993 amateur draft by the Toronto Blue Jays, Chris Carpenter was fresh out of high school. He was joined in the Blue Jays’ minor league system two years later by Roy Halladay, who was also drafted in the first round as well. Carpenter and Halladay were supposed to be the Blue Jays’ 1-2 punch in the rotation, with Carpenter as the #1, as they flew to success in the American League East.
Going into the 2002 season their hopes were high. The 26-year-old Chris Carpenter and the 24-year-old Roy Halladay were poised to take over their roles at the top of the rotation. With Luke Prokopec and Brandon Lyon as young guys set for the rotation, the team had high hopes for their pitching staff and an offensive lineup that included Carlos Delgado, Orlando Hudson, Eric Hinske, Shannon Stewart, and Vernon Wells.
Hinske would win the American League Rookie of the Year that year, hitting .279 with 24 HR and 84 RBI.
Halladay, in his first full season in the major league rotation, would post a 2.93 ERA and 19 wins for the Blue Jays.
Carpenter, who won 11 games in 2011 with a 4.09 ERA, was the team’s opening day starter and was supposed to be their #1 starter. Instead, he started just 13 games in 2002. He hit the disabled list three times for shoulder issues. He would have shoulder surgery in September that ended his season and would cut into his 2003 season. When Toronto removed him from their 40 man roster, they offered him a minor league deal with incentives. Chris Carpenter declined.
The Blue Jays loss was the Cardinals’ gain. The Cardinals signed Chris Carpenter to a contract for 2003 with an option for 2004 in the hopes that he’d be ready for midseason of 2003. The Cardinals paid him the major league minimum, but apparently were one of the few teams that were willing to give him a major league contract. Shoulder problems, as a pitcher, can typically be a death sentence. Hence, the Blue Jays’ action to remove him from the roster.
Carpenter would miss all the 2003 season, but he would show his potential in 2004 as he posted a career year. He wasted no time establishing himself as the Cardinals’ ace. He started 28 games and won 15 of them with a 3.46 ERA for the Cardinals as he helped lead them to a 105 win season. The Cardinals would make their first World Series appearance since 1987, but Carpenter would miss it. Again with arm problems, this time a nerve issue in his right bicep.
In 2005 he established himself, not just as the Cardinals’ ace, but as one of the best pitchers in the National League as he posted a 2.83 ERA, had a 21-5 record, led the league in complete games, and won the National League Cy Young Award.
Since he donned a Cardinals uniform for the first time, he has been the pitcher the Blue Jays expected him to become. Unfortunately those injury issues would reappear as Carpenter made just 5 starts between the 2007 and 2008 seasons. The Cardinals, however, remained loyal to him. And why not? In his time in Cardinal red, Carpenter is 95-42 with a 3.06 ERA. He’s been a three-time All Star and finished in the top-3 in Cy Young voting three times.
After twirling a 2 hit shutout of the Houston Astros on the final night of the regular season to put the Cardinals into the 2011 Major League Baseball Playoffs, Carpenter started Game 2 against Cliff Lee on short rest. Unable to settle in on the mound, Carpenter allowed 4 runs on 5 hits and 3 walks over 3 innings. The Cardinals, however, were able to come back and win the game. With a Game 4 win last night, the Cardinals set up this matchup of former Blue Jays.
After that 2002 season, Roy Halladay wasted no time taking over that top spot in the Blue Jays’ rotation. In 2003 he would lead the major leagues with 22 wins and 36 games started. Combined with his 3.25 ERA and he would win the first of his two Cy Young Awards.
In 2004, he developed shoulder issues. The problem was discovered to have existed through most of the season due to a preseason workout regimine. That would explain his 4.20 ERA in 21 starts, the worst season of his major league career.
In 2005, Halladay would again miss a portion of the season. This time it was a line drive that broke his leg shortly before the All Star break that would force him to miss the remainder of the season.
For his next four years in a Blue Jays uniform, Halladay was solid. He went 69-33 from 2006 to 2009 along with a 3.11 ERA. He threw over 220 innings in each of those seasons. You can’t ask for much more of a workhorse than what Halladay gave the Blue Jays.
After the 2009 season, the Blue Jays knew they weren’t going to be able to retain Halladay through his free agency at the end of the season and ultimately traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies for some prospects.
The Blue Jays
Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, they were never able to capitalize on their 1-2 punch. Carpenter spent the good part of his career in a Cardinals uniform and Halladay never had the right supporting cast around him.
The Blue Jays won 87 games in 2006 and finished second in the American League East. That was their best season through that run.
The organization is now working on 18 consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance. Their last time, 1993, they won the World Series.
As a young Canadian kid (though I was living in North Carolina at the time), I’d been raised with the Toronto Blue Jays. Joe Carter was my favorite player. I can still remember my parents letting me stay up past my bedtime to watch the games of that World Series (heh, I just aged myself). Then what else happens, but Joe Carter going deep with a walk-off three run home run to win the Blue Jays’ second consecutive World Series.
Back to 2011. Here stands Chris Carpenter as the de facto ace for the Cardinals without Adam Wainwright. On the other side stands Roy Halladay, the ace of a staff full of aces. At stake is a berth in the NLCS and a chance at the 2011 World Series.
For the Blue Jays, it was supposed to be Carpenter and Halladay giving them the chance at the World Series, but now they face each other, pitching for other teams, trying to get them there instead.
How things can go so wrong.