CINCINNATI — At some point early Sunday morning, former Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter plans to leave his New England home and drive several hours, alone, to visit Cooperstown, N.Y., for the first time in more than two decades. When last he was there, on July 27, 1998, his Blue Jays played in the Hall of Fame Game, and for the event Toronto promoted a young, rising-prospect righthander who would become one of Carpenter’s dearest friends.
He was there at the start of Roy Halladay’s career and now returns to the same small village, nearly two years after Halladay’s death, for the finish only the finest players receive.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of feelings of excitement for him and for his family,” Carpenter said this past week by phone. “I also think it’s going to bring a little closure for everyone, too. He was a special guy who had a special career and did a lot of special things, and this the last of the great things a player can do.”
With Carpenter in the audience, the late “Doc” Halladay will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday alongside five other legends: Mariano Rivera, the first player ever to be elected unanimously, and Lee Smith, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, and Harold Baines. Halladay, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, was elected with 85 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility. The honor serves as a memorial. In November 2017, Halladay was killed in a single-plane accident off the coast of Florida. He was 40.
Two years after the Jays drafted Carpenter 15th overall in 1993, they selected Halladay 17th overall. The two, tall, driven — “and socially awkward,” Carpenter said — righthanders would be linked often as prospects and became that way forever as friends.
“We played a short period of time together, and we really weren’t teammates for long, but we grew up a lot together,” Carpenter said. “Our relationship was personal. It was more personal than anything else, and that’s what made it meaningful.”
As young Jays, they shared the same mentors in coach Mel Queen and pitchers Pat Hentgen, Woody Williams and Roger Clemens. They also took different routes to prove a similar mettle and ultimately win Cy Young awards and become the No. 1 starters Toronto imagined. Carpenter bulldozed through injuries to become a Cardinals Hall of Famer. Halladay was demoted from the majors to Class A and had to work his way back from those depths to go 203-105 in the majors, win the Cy Young in 2003 and 2010, pitch a perfect game, and, in his first playoff start, throw a no-hitter.
In 2011, as the Cardinals faced the Phillies in the National League division series, then-Cardinals manager Tony La Russa grinned warmly when asked if he set up his rotation to allow for a Carpenter-Halladay, winner-take-all matchup in Game 5.
“Who wouldn’t want to see that?” La Russa said.
Carpenter outdueled “Doc” with a complete-game shutout the Cardinals won, 1-0. On the team bus, as it left Philadelphia behind headed for the NL championship series, Carpenter received a text message. He wasn’t sure who sent the first one. But from the Phillies clubhouse, still sitting in his locker, Halladay had sent him congratulations and encouragement. In the years that followed they would visit Brazil and Argentina together, and still on his phone are photos Carpenter keeps to himself of the two of them as young prospects.
“He’s a part of me, for sure,” Carpenter said. “Amazing competitor. I don’t think it gets talked about enough how he went from Roy Halladay, superstar, No. 1 guy for the Blue Jays all the way back to Single-A to have to do it all over again. He never would have been who he was without having to go through that. That work, that competitiveness, that willingness to change to improve — that’s what made him him. That’s a story we should tell more.”
In Carpenter’s current role with the Cardinals as a special instructor, one of the things he does is tell stories. What he first did with Adam Wainwright as a rookie in 2005, Carpenter now does for the pitchers throughout the organization. He recounts how he found his strength as a starter, how he reclaimed his health, and how he found his voice as a leader. He said this past week that all of the stories he tells are personal ones, involving him.
Asked if maybe he could be the one to pass on Halladay’s story so that it continued as a lesson for other pitchers, Carpenter paused.
“I could,” he said.
The Hall then might bring “a touch of closure,” as he said, but not an end.
HELSLEY PROMOTED, BULLPEN FORTIFIED
Their bullpen thinned by a series of short starts, the Cardinals promoted reliever Ryan Helsley to the majors Saturday afternoon and, temporarily, reorganized the roster around 14 pitchers and 11 position players. To make room for Helsley the Cardinals optioned shortstop Edmundo Sosa back to Class AAA Memphis.
“Extenuating circumstances,” manager Mike Shildt called the move.
In the past three games — all wins — the Cardinals’ relievers threw a total of 15 innings. John Brebbia and Giovanny Gallegos were unavailable Friday due to usage, and that left Carlos Martinez to handle the ninth inning, regardless of how it twisted on him. He needed nearly 30 pitches to complete his seventh save, and his availability was questionable Saturday. John Gant, one of six relievers used Friday, had also thrown extensively in the previous few days.
Helsley, 25, was scheduled to pitch three innings for the Triple-A Redbirds on Saturday as part of a piggyback start, so he was available for length, if needed. He’s commuted between the majors and minors all season and had his past promotion truncated by injury. The righthander rebuilt his strength in Triple-A, where he allowed eight earned runs and eight walks in his previous 8 2/3 innings. His rehab innings over, Helsley has struck out 12 in his past 7 2/3 innings for the Redbirds.
The sweltering temps and time of the season has prompted the Cardinals to urge players to monitor and even reduce their workout regimens at the ballpark. Both teams held an option batting practice Saturday and neither hit on the field before a first-pitch temp of 94 degrees. … “Starting to be smart with reps in every part of our clubhouse,” Shildt said. “Whether it’s in the weight room or whether it’s in sides or whether it’s in the BP cages, groundballs.” … The Reds continued tinkering with their roster Saturday, sending former Cardinals reliever Matt Bowman back to Class AAA along with reliever Jimmy Herget. Those moves allowed the Reds to activate closer Raisel Iglesias from the paternity list and lefty Amir Garrett (left lat strain) from the 10-day injured list.