Boone, Carpenter are comeback kids

Gordon Edes
Yahoo! Sports

A case could be made that the National League's Comeback Player of the Year this season is a guy who hasn't even made it back to the big leagues yet.

In March, Aaron Boone(notes) was lying on an operating table, ready to have his chest sliced open so doctors could perform open-heart surgery to repair an aortic valve. Five months later, the 36-year-old third baseman is on a rehab assignment for the Double-A team in Corpus Christi, Tex., and is expected to join the Houston Astros when rosters expand in September.

Boone, once he plays for Houston, goes unchallenged for most dramatic comeback by a National League player.

"I'm free and clear," Boone said after his first game back this week. "I check my blood pressure and things like that, but it's go get 'em."

But while Boone has a lock on the "ER" vote – and remember, this is a guy who has been down the comeback road before, having torn up his knee in a game of pickup basketball (an injury that led the Yankees to acquire Alex Rodriguez(notes) in 2004 to replace him) – there's another medical marvel who, when you factor in performance, wins the award in a runaway.

Chris Carpenter(notes) not only is a lock as the NL's Comeback Player of the Year, but the St. Louis Cardinals right-hander also is mounting a serious campaign to win the Cy Young Award, which had been all but conceded to Tim LIncecum(notes) of the Giants.

In eight starts since July 5, Carpenter is 7-0 with a 2.10 ERA. He has 12 wins – second in the league to teammate Adam Wainwright(notes) and Johan Santana(notes) of the Mets – and his ERA of 2.27 is second to Lincecum. He has been equally hard on hitters from either side of the plate: right-handed hitters are batting .223 with just four home runs in 256 at-bats; lefties are hitting just .236 with three home runs in 220 at-bats.

Wednesday night, Carpenter fanned 10 and didn't walk a batter in seven innings Wednesday en route to his 12th win of the year, a 5-2 Cardinals victory over the Reds. His fastball regularly was timed at 96 to 97 mph.

"When he's healthy," teammate Albert Pujols(notes) told reporters afterward, "he's unbelievable."

The Bedford, N.H., native had proved that back in 2005 when he went 21-5 and won the NL Cy Young Award, becoming the first Cardinals pitcher to do so since Bob Gibson in 1970. The next year, pitching in a critical Game 3 of the 2006 World Series, Carpenter shut out the Tigers on three hits over eight innings, and the Cardinals went on to win the next two games and the Series.

That winter, Carpenter was rewarded with a five-year deal for close to $65 million, but then the wheels fell off.

He underwent surgery in May 2007 to remove bone chips in his elbow before needing Tommy John ligament replacement surgery in July. He had made just one start before the surgeries in 2007, and he was shut down by a triceps strain after returning for just three starts last August.

It also was determined that Carpenter had nerve problems in his right elbow and shoulder, so he underwent surgery in November on a nerve in the elbow. A month later, a nerve test showed that the surgery had been successful, and he was on track to pitch again.

But there would be one more aggravating setback for the 34-year-old right-hander. In April, he tore his left oblique muscle while swinging a bat, putting him on the DL again. But the 6-foot-6 right-hander came back in May with five scoreless innings against the Cubs, and he hasn't looked back since. His velocity now is several mph higher than it was before he broke down.

"I know that if I'm healthy my ability has a chance to come out," Carpenter told Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan after beating the Cubs that night back in May. "Unfortunately, I haven't been healthy a whole lot, and that's what concerns me."

Those concerns have been allayed. Carpenter is an ace again, and by no coincidence, the Cardinals are in first place in the NL Central.

It is triumph in itself that Aaron Boone is playing again. It is a tribute to persistence and modern medicine that Carpenter once again stands at the top of his profession.

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