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ST. LOUIS — Chris Carpenter seems like one of the guys. His locker is there, on the end with his St. Louis Cardinals jersey hanging in front of it, like everyone else's. He heads off to the showers after the day's workout, just like everyone else.
Except he's not one of the guys. He's Chris Carpenter, postseason legend. On a team that has a treasure trove of early 20s kids with high 90s fastballs, Carpenter is the revered elder statesman, their big brother — the guy who pitched Games 1, 5 and 7 the last time the Cardinals won a World Series in 2011, the guy who threw a three-hit shutout to close out the NLDS that same year.
You want to know about pitching in the postseason? You go talk to him.
Carpenter, 38, is in an odd place this season. He hasn't pitched because of a nerve issue in his right shoulder. It was revealed in February and Carpenter skipped spring training so he wouldn't be a distraction. Injuries are something he knows about. He missed most of 2012 because of injury. He missed 99% of 2007 and 2008 and he missed 2003 entirely.
It would have been easy for him to retreat, head home, chalk up 2013 as another injury-ridden disappointment. But Chris Carpenter is not one of those guys. He rejoined the team once the regular season started and he's there, every day. He's assumed a quasi-player, quasi-coach role, helping out this young staff of Cardinals pitchers.
"He's almost like another pitching coach," says Joe Kelly, the Cardinals starter in Saturday's Game 3 of the World Series.
"He's been here since the beginning of the season," Kelly says. "He's in the clubhouse. He travels with us. It's pretty cool when you have a guy like that. Me making my first career postseason starts, it's easy for me to go up to him and ask, how do you pitch in a big game? How do you not listen to the crowd? Because he's done it before. Just the wisdom that guy has. Throughout the year, there'd be numerous time where he'd get the starters together and just sit down and talk about where we're at and where we need to be. He'll help you if he thinks your mechanics are getting a little off. He's definitely a big part of our team and this staff's success."
To hear Carpenter explain it, he's another guy in the clubhouse, nothing special: "Just trying to help as much as I can," he says.
Maybe it's modesty that won't let him quantify his importance to his team, maybe it's something in The Cardinal Way doctrine. But everybody else sees it and is happy to talk about Carpenter's role in more than nine words:
"To be able to explain to a very young pitching staff what it's like to compete late in October is invaluable," says Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak. "When you remember [Carpenter] as a pitcher, he was one the most competitive guys to ever take the mound. He's somebody that, even when he can't do it, he still has that edge. I think as a mentor to these young guys, he's just become a huge asset to this clubhouse.
"This just shows you how important this team and this organization is to him."
It means enough to him that after the Cardinals 4-2 win in Game 2, Carpenter stood in the center of the tiny visitor's clubhouse at Fenway Park. He's 6-foot-6, so he commands attention, but in these close quarters even more so. He answered questions about the game, like the rest of the Cardinals even though he didn't throw a single pitch. The media knows what his teammates know — Chris Carpenter is a wise man.
"There's been two people in my life that have been the biggest influences on me in my baseball career," Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright says. "One is my brother and the other is Chris Carpenter ... Chris Carpenter told me how to be a professional. Showed me what it took to get through that daily grind of pitching once every fifth day, and the team needs to rely on you and go out there and deliver a win. Telling me how to go about my workout between games, how to go about my running between games."
The rumor is that Carpenter will retire after this season. He hasn't confirmed that, but that's the word from his agent. "I'm not sure," Carpenter said earlier this week about his future. "I'm going to enjoy this right now with me and my family. When it's all said and done, we'll sit down and talk about what the future holds."
There's also talk that the Cardinals would hire Carpenter back in a front-office position. "I could see him doing a lot of things in the game should he choose," was as specific as Mozeliak got on the topic.
Right now, the World Series is, understandably, foremost on both their minds. We'll hear more about Carpenter later. There's a final few pages to finish writing before "The End" gets stamped on Carpenter's career. And this ending could be a good one.
A season that started as yet another disappointment for Carpenter could end with another World Series win, the highest of baseball highs. It's not the same, being in the position he is now and being the guy who is called to pitch the clinching game like he did two years ago.
If that burns him on the inside, Carpenter isn't showing it.
"It's not just about you," he says. "It's about the ball club, it's about the organization. And this organization is amazing, with a great group of guys in that clubhouse. That's what you're excited about."
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