A Tale of Two Aces

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and all that crap.

Sometimes, the final score of a game not only doesn’t tell the whole story, it totally misses the whole point of that story. And sometimes, when the danged score totally drops the ball like that, GameDay’s got its back.

Chris Carpenter was, as he’s been whenever healthy since first setting foot in St. Louis in 2004, outstanding yesterday. After hitting Alex Cora to start the game, Carpenter retired the next nine hitters, and made it look easy. If you flip through the GameDay link, you’ll see nothing but 92-MPH sinking fastballs at the knees; sharp sliders exactly hitting the low-outside corner against RH hitters or riding in on the hands of LH hitters; and two-strike curveballs suddenly diving into the dirt. For those first three innings, it was like a video game; every pitch he threw (except that first time to Cora) went exactly where you would assume he would’ve wanted it in that situation. He turned human after that, but only a little, still hitting his spots with all his pitches with alarming regularity.

On the other hand, Carp’s opponent yesterday was none other than probably the best pitcher of the ‘aughts (I figure it’s got to be him or Randy Johnson, right?), Johan Santana. And what is wrong with that guy? Through the first two innings, Santana threw 17 strikes and 16 balls. He wasn’t striking out anybody. His GameDay log shows fastballs left over the middle of the plate, and his usually-awesome changeup (which should generally be down in the zone) left well up and away to most hitters. He was all over the place, especially early. He loaded the bases in the second with Albert Pujols coming up, and gave him a 93-MPH fastball right in Albert’s wheelhouse that Pujols came just a few feet short of converting into four runs.

The story is also told by how the pitchers fared against each other: in his first two at-bats, Carpenter singled on the first pitch and then drew a walk. Santana struck out on three pitches and then popped out to very shallow right.

For the day, Carpenter pitched 7 innings; threw only 82 pitches (he was pulled for a pinch hitter; just another persuasive argument in favor of the DH rule), but 64 of them (78%) for strikes; allowed four hits, three singles and a double; and walked none while striking out five. He did hit the one batter.

Santana also threw 7 innings, but required 110 pitches, 74 of them strikes (67%, a huge improvement given his 50/50 start). He allowed 7 hits, one of them a double. He walked three and struck out only three.

But here’s the catch: all four of the hits Carpenter allowed came in the fourth inning. They led to three runs. Ignore that little HBP to lead off the game, and Carpenter authored six perfect innings and one clunker (though it’s not as though he was hit terribly hard even in that inning). Meanwhile, what with the Pujols near-grand slam and all, Santana stranded eight runners on base, permitting only two runs. The Mets bullpen held on (barely, with some nerve-racking wildness by K-Rod), giving Santana the “win” and Carpenter the “loss.”

And today, you’ll probably read about how Santana might be back on track after picking up the win in St. Louis. But that just doesn’t tell the story of this game at all. These are two guys who are going in opposite directions.

In Santana’s last 7 starts before yesterday, he had gone 43 innings, given up 10 HR and posted a 5.82 ERA, striking out 37 and walking 14; that’s 3 fewer innings, 1 more walk, 23 fewer strikeouts and 8 more HR than he put up over his first seven starts. This one will make his ERA over that stretch look a lot better, and it’s nice that he managed not to allow a HR for the first time in eight appearances…but there’s not a lot to feel hopeful about here. This isn’t the Santana of those first seven starts, and you have to start wondering if something is a little wrong with the guy.

Meanwhile, in his entire nine-start, injury-shortened season, Carpenter has been consistently fantastic, with a 1.53 ERA, 43 strikeouts against just 9 walks, and just 3 HR in 58 2/3 innings. Yesterday, he took his second “loss” in his last three starts, and allowed exactly three earned runs for the third time in his last four. But make no mistake: Carpenter has shown conclusively that, injuries and all, he’s still a truly great pitcher. And the “L” by his name in the boxscore and the one unlucky inning don’t change the fact that, in this particular matchup of former Cy Young Award winners on this particular day, he was the better pitcher, and it wasn’t even remotely close.

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2 Responses to “A Tale of Two Aces”

  1. lar Says:

    Well, crappy string of starts or no, I'm just excited that the Mets-Brewers tickets that I chose six months ago in my season ticket plan ended up being for Johan's next start on Tuesday night. Looking forward to that. I still can't believe how good Carpenter is these days. He's the best thing about the Cardinals, non-Pujols edition.

    (Hey Bill, did you get that email I sent the other night? I'm not positive I have your correct email address… email me if you can)

  2. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    I thought the same thing when I watched the Braves-Yankees game the other night. Hanson, for all intents and purposes, didn't pitch all that well. Wang, I thought anyway, pitched very well. Hanson gave up 0 runs but like 12 runners, and Wang gave up 3 runs but 6 or 7 (if that) runners. But McCann and Anderson hit a couple low sinkers really well and drove in runs. But I'm sure Wang was taken to task by the NY media the next day.

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