Anyone who hadn’t seen Chris Carpenter between this October and the last one would have no reason to believe he didn’t have a normal 11 months in between.
Carpenter was effective in familiar postseason fashion against the Nationals, lasting 5 2/3 innings in Wednesday’s 8-0 demolition and giving barely any indication that he’d had just three starts and pitched only 17 innings all season.
He was grateful enough for his remarkable comeback from surgery three months earlier to step back for just a moment as he took the mound for the first playoff game in Washington since 1933.
“When I walked up for my first at‑bat, Joe West, the umpire, said to me something about what a beautiful day to play baseball,” Carpenter said. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, you know what, you’re right.’ It was a fantastic day. Great weather. Crowd was amazing. This is what you play for and I was definitely‑‑ I took it in a little bit, yeah, no question.”
In July, Carpenter underwent a procedure to relieve thoracic outlet syndrome, where compressed nerves lead to pain and numbness in the arm, a condition he’d been experiencing since spring training.
Not quite 100 percent in his recovery, perhaps that is what led to a 25-pitch first inning. But the normally unflappable Carpenter still escaped unscathed after the Nationals had runners on first and second with one out.
“His velocity wasn’t what it usually is or what it was before the surgery,” Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “But he’s the guy that pitches in big games. And I think he made pitches when he needed to.”
By the time the 37-year-old right hander was back on the mound in the second, he had a 4-0 moat between him and the Nationals which allowed him to use all five of his pitches and put them in spots where Washington batters didn’t want to see them.
“I didn’t think he had great stuff,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. “But he didn’t give the hitters any good pitches, and that’s the name of the ballgame. He stayed out of the middle of the plate, kept the ball down, and had a good curveball, change. That’s the key to pitching.”
Heading into Game 4 with their backs against the wall in the best-of-five series, the Nationals must solve an unhealthy addiction to leaving runners on base. There were 11 of them on Wednesday, but a veteran, World Series-winning pitcher deserved much of the credit.
“Carpenter’s been a dominant pitcher his whole career,” Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth said. “A big game pitcher. He showed up. He pitched well today. We had him in some tough spots. We had him on the ropes a couple times. We were just one bloop away from a totally different ballgame. He’s playoff proven. He’s been doing it his whole career. Got to tip your cap to that, for sure. But I still felt like we had a chance to get him.”