Dave D'Onfrio's Sox Beat: NH's Carpenter peddles advice
AS Michael Wacha stood in the visitor's dugout at Pittsburgh's PNC Park, preparing for a performance that came with his Cardinals facing elimination in the National League Division Series, the 22-year-old wunderkind was approached by a teammate who wanted to share some wisdom.
Wisdom accumulated along a journey that began in Raymond, N.H., and at Manchester's Trinity High School, given that the teammate was Chris Carpenter.
"Just don't let the distractions get the best of you," Wacha remembers being told by the veteran. "Try and use those fans in your favor; use them as adrenaline to help you succeed out there."
Armed with that advice, Wacha went out that afternoon and didn't allow a hit or a run until the eighth inning, pitching the Cardinals to a 2-1 victory over a Pirates team they'd eliminate a couple days later. Wacha followed that up with two scoreless outings in an NL Championship Series of which he was named the most valuable player, and tonight at Fenway Park he'll start Game 2 of the World Series.
Carpenter, meanwhile, has been relegated to the dugout for the duration of that run — and this season. He hasn't been able to recover from a shoulder injury that cost him much of 2012, so he hasn't thrown a pitch in 2013, and is likely to retire when it's over.
But ask his fellow pitchers, and it's impossible to say that Carpenter hasn't helped the Cardinals get to this point, where they've won the NL pennant and are attempting to win their third World Series since Carpenter got to St. Louis in 2003.
"He's a huge influence on these young guys," said right-hander Shelby Miller, a young guy himself at 23, who watched as Carpenter attempted a comeback that was ultimately aborted at midseason. "Things didn't work out the way he wanted them to, but just to show the work ethic that he had, and how much passion he has for the game. The love that he has for the game is awesome. You want to be that guy. You want people to see you being that guy."
"He does little meetings with all the young guys," said 25-year-old Joe Kelly, who is likely to pitch Game 3 or 4 for St. Louis. "He's got so much experience you could almost sit there and listen to him all day. From opening day to now he's been around the clubhouse all the time, and coming from another starter it's easy to ask him, 'Hey, how do you pitch in a big game?' because he's done it."
Indeed, Carpenter went 3-1 in the playoffs when the Cardinals were crowned in 2006, then went 4-0 — with wins in the fifth game of the NLCS and seventh game of the World Series — when St. Louis triumphed again in 2011. His postseason record is 10-4, and his earned run average is 3.00 over 108 career innings.
But he's come to grips with the idea that he won't be adding to that resume, and has embraced his role as a mentor and cheerleader. It's a role he's prepared for, not only with his own experience but by coming up with the idea that all of St. Louis' starters would watch each other through bullpen sessions, and share observations.
"It's been great," Carpenter said Tuesday, shortly before fulfilling a dream by taking batting practice at Fenway. "I got over that frustration once my comeback didn't work out. I've enjoyed this role. I've enjoyed being around these guys and watching them grow, and watching this season turn into what it is.
"Experience and conversation is how you help them. If they have questions, you answer them. If you have something to say that you think can help, you go talk to them."
Carpenter is taking his cues from the veterans who nestled him under their wings when he came with the Blue Jays — Roger Clemens and David Wells among them — and who taught him how to be a professional when he broke into the majors at 22.
Now he's 38, and it would've fit the storybook if a guy from New Hampshire could've ended a 15-year career by pitching in the World Series in Boston. However, after missing the Cardinals-Red Sox series of 2004 with an injury, he's forced to be a spectator again. He's thought about that some, but he doesn't lament the reality.
"It's gone through my mind a little bit — but I'm still here, and it's fun, and I get to be a part of it," Carpenter said. "I haven't been able to compete at this level yet, but I'm part of the team."
Even without throwing a pitch, he certainly is.
If Clay Buchholz was fully healthy there's no question he would be pitching Game 3 ahead of Jake Peavy — so that the Sox remain undecided about Saturday's starter says something is bugging the right-hander. But manager John Farrell insisted Wednesday that Buchholz is healthy enough to start in this series, and that remains the plan despite contradictory speculation.
"Right now he's scheduled to pitch on the weekend over in St. Louis," Farrell said. "We have yet to determine whether Peavy is in Game 4 or Game 3. Some of that will be determined on how we see the style of John Lackey go up against this team tomorrow night."
In both of his ALCS starts, Buchholz was fine through five innings — then allowed six hits and a walk to the nine batters he faced in the sixth. That suggests an issue with stamina for the pitcher who missed three months with a shoulder injury.
The Red Sox made no changes to the roster they've used throughout these playoffs, sticking with 11 pitchers — most notably Franklin Morales over Matt Thornton as a third lefty.
This week signifies Wacha's second time at Fenway Park. The first was while a member of the United States Collegiate National Team, which in 2011 came to Boston and lost an exhibition game to all-stars from the New England Collegiate Baseball League — which currently has teams in Keene and Laconia, and formerly had a club in Concord.
Dave D'Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.