ST. LOUIS (KMOV) — From the time St. Louis selected Matt Carpenter in the 13th round of the 2009 MLB Draft, through the end of the 2021 season, the lanky native Texan was a cardinal.
His entire professional career was spent as a member of the organization who took a chance on him when he was a redshirt senior at TCU. His signing bonus was a thousand dollars – almost incomprehensibly low compared to the garish dollars that are thrown at players selected in the early rounds of the draft these days.
As the twelve years since those humble beginnings would show, Matt Carpenter just needed a chance. The cardinals provided one.
This bond with the team and the city that welcomed Carpenter before he knew what he would become is what made Friday’s moment for Carpenter, the former Cardinal, so special. Carpenter made his first career visit to Busch Stadium as a member of the road team on Friday, beating the New York Yankees’ third roster amid his resurgent campaign for the Bronx Bombers.
There was no Long Hot Summer Day – his signature song as a Cardinal – playing over the stadium speakers when Carpenter entered the batting box for his turn at the top of the first inning Friday night at Busch . But the ovation for the 36-year-old slugger was so thunderous you couldn’t have heard the music, anyway.
When the emotion of the moment died down for a teary-eyed Carpenter, the veteran southpaw continued his unlikely career revival by working the full count against Dakota Hudson – a vintage Carpenter event – before hitting a slapped base through the right side of the infield. The crowd cheered the result on a level that would suggest it wasn’t just the loyal Yankees in attendance who appreciated the effort.
Through two at-bats on Friday, Carpenter is 2-for-4, increasing his batting average to .328 on the season, nearly double the .169 at-bat mark he posted in his final year with the Cardinals in 2021. While Carpenter hasn’t racked up enough plate appearances to qualify for the statistical rankings, meaning the sample size is admittedly small, there’s no doubting the remarkable nature of his return this year with New York.
Carpenter’s OPS on the season is 1.219, significantly better than the two MVP candidates who were also in Friday’s starting lineups at Busch Stadium: Aaron Judge (1.064) and Paul Goldschmidt (1.022). He has 15 homers on the year, more than double his grand total of seven between 2020 and 2021 — in about a third of plate appearances in those two years combined.
Even the most impressive streaks of Carpenter’s white-hot summer of 2018 pale in comparison to what he’s done in 44 games with the Yankees this season.
Cardinals fans who rooted in dismay last season when Carpenter failed to compile an OPS even half as productive as the one he now boasts as a Yankee are surely scratching their heads as to the how that career on life support could suddenly appear so rejuvenated. A story from February in The Athletic chronicled Carpenter’s long journey to find his swing through the winter. He took advice from Joey Votto, Matt Holliday and perhaps more importantly, the Driveline Baseball lab in Washington state, finally leaning into analysis to fix his game after years of admitted resistance. Carpenter was encouraged by the results he found during the offseason, but was still waiting for the most critical step in his expedition: implementing changes during in-game action.
After starting the season with minor league affiliate Texas Rangers, Carpenter requested his release after 21 games in which he posted good numbers but was not considered for promotion to the big leagues. . As a carpenter said on the Bally Sports pre-game show on Fridaythere was a time when Carpenter thought it might mark the end of his Major League career.
The Yankees, however, came calling. They signed Carpenter to an MLB contract in late May and immediately began putting him in the roster. Carpenter delivered, delivered some more, then carried on to the pleasant surprise of a whole new group of fans who were eagerly discovering just how much fun it can be to watch him play baseball when he’s at his best.
For an organization with as much history as any in professional sports, Carpenter found himself filling rosters alongside Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in Yankees lore.
The man who unlikely rose to cult hero status this summer in the Bronx was once a career cardinal, making his incredible rediscovery this season something of a vexing fever dream for the people of St. Louis.
But as strange as the turn of events has been for Carpenter this season, it has also been a serendipitous situation to watch from afar. On Friday, Cardinals fans took the opportunity to express their deepest gratitude for the years Carpenter spent in St. Louis.
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