Veteran righthander Chris Carpenter, who has a prestigious corner locker in the Cardinals' clubhouse, was conducting some inventory the other day.
"I was cleaning my spikes out of my locker ... I got a whole bunch of new spikes that came in ... and I'm thinking, 'I'm going to have to clean everything out,''' said Carpenter.
"Usually, I just throw all my stuff in there for the next year. I'm going to be like everyone else, boxing everything up and taking it in my car."
Carpenter, who first signed with the Cardinals in December 2002, is finishing up a five-year contract extension this year. The club holds an option at $15 million for next year, but the 36-year-old Carpenter might be an economic casualty, especially if slugger Albert Pujols is re-signed to a long-term deal. A more likely development would be a $1 million buyout by the Cardinals and then Carpenter would hit the free-agent market, too.
"So, yeah, it's odd," said Carpenter. "I'd be lying to you if I said that hasn't crossed my mind throughout the year. I've had conversations with my wife about schooling (the Carpenters have two children).
"But it's another distraction you try not to concern yourself with and you move on," said Carpenter, although he made it clear he wanted to not only play here next year but finish his career with the Cardinals.
Carpenter, 7-8 but winner of six of his last seven decisions, will face the Milwaukee Brewers tonight in the finale of a three-game series as the Cardinals try to gather more traction in the National League Central Division race. Carpenter is 136-85 against everybody else but 4-6 with a 5.33 ERA against Milwaukee, even counting a one-hit shutout in September 2009, his last shutout.
When Carpenter says he can be and will be single-minded about the task tonight, manager Tony La Russa has seen too much not to believe him.
"He's a classic No. 1 pitcher because he understands his responsibility the day he pitches," said La Russa. "And he willingly accepts it.
"He gives us a chance to win, which is important. He competes like a maniac, which is important. How he handles a good game and a not-so-good game is important. If we get beat, it's all his fault. And if we win, he just did his job and he points out the other guys who made it happen.
"The four days in between (starts), his work ethic is perfect. So he sets an example, if you want to pitch on this staff or if you want to be a quality major leaguer."
Carpenter was 1-7 with a 4.24 ERA after a 9-7 loss at Cincinnati on May 15. Since then, he has a 2.64 ERA over his last nine starts.
This isn't exactly the John Tudor comeback in 1985 when Tudor, like Carpenter a staunch New Englander, started out 1-7. Tudor went on an amazing 20-1 ride the rest of the way, but this recent streak by Carpenter is more representative of what Cardinals fans have come to expect from him.
La Russa said there were four times he could remember that Carpenter had given up one run or none but didn't get offensive help. Carpenter prefers to look at it as there was something he could have done differently "unless I've thrown a perfect game. You could lose a game 2-1, but there's always a pitch I could have gotten back and done something better with.
"I think I was close to doing the same things I'm doing now," he said. "I would have never given up. I would just keep grinding to try to figure out a way and have confidence in yourself and your stuff that it will turn around."
And it has.
"I've still had a few 'here-and-theres,''' said Carpenter, "but I feel like I'm throwing the ball well and I feel like my stuff is as good as it's ever been. And I'm excited by the way my curveball was last (Saturday) against Florida. It was the best it's been all year."
When the won-lost record read 1-7, Carpenter said he really didn't pay attention to the numbers. "Now, if you're talking that I was 4-15 with a 6 (ERA), then I'd say, 'Something is not very good any more,''' he said. "And I will tell the truth if that ever happens."
La Russa said, "A guy could say, 'It's not my year,' and give something less than his best. He has a very high standard he pitches to, as far as personal accountability.
"Albert (Pujols) is the same way. They're going to give their best shot. All the time.
"Those young guys see that, and he's a great mentor.
Carpenter said, quietly, that he hoped that a certain standard had been set here, and "I feel I've had a part in that."
Indeed, Carpenter may have only a handful more starts at Busch Stadium. But when you see the next one tonight, for the first time he will have his pantlegs high, showing bright red socks with the horizontal stripes. Not for style, but for comfort.
"The way I sweat ... I don't know if it's the way (the pants) fit this year, or what, but they just continue to stick around your knees and stuff," said Carpenter, who will adopt the look employed by Brad Penny in the brief time he pitched here last year.
"I'm going to put them on and see what happens," said Carpenter. "Subject to change. To be announced."
The striped-stirrups look, but not with the pantlegs so high, was and is one favored by Cardinals Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst, who still wears them like that when he's on the field before games. Carpenter smiled at the thought.
"Maybe," he said, "in my last year, I can be like Red."
Which is never a bad thing.