Last year, Chris Carpenter showed his passion for pitching in big games. It's no wonder that after receiving what appeared to be season-ending surgery this spring, Carpenter told his first-year manager, Mike Matheny, not to count him out for this October.
Matheny, who was Carpenter's first Cardinal battery-mate in 2004, is certainly happy to have him back and pitching a potential playoff series-clincher tonight—a position he is very familiar with.
Tonight in San Francisco, Carpenter will face Ryan Vogelsong and the Giants in Game 6 of the NLCS, with the Cardinals up 3-2 in the series. It will be Carpenter's fifth chance to clinch a postseason spot or playoff series win for the Cardinals in his last 13 starts, dating back to Game 162 of the 2011 regular season.
And Carp seems to perform his best in these games.
In his previous four potential clinchers, this is what Carpenter has done: four quality starts, with two complete-game shutouts, posted a 3-1 record with 26 strikeouts, a 1.50 ERA and a 0.77 WHIP. In his only loss, Game 161 this year against the Reds, the Cardinals clinched later than night anyway, with a Dodgers loss.
In eight games where Carpenter had no chance to clinch, he only notched three quality starts, and pitched to a 3-2 record with 21 strikeouts, a 3.67 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP.
In this span, starters not named Carpenter have also gotten four starts in potentially clinching games for the Cardinals. They've combined to go 0-1 with 18 strikeouts, a 6.60 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in those games.
It's amazing that the Cardinals won two of those games. It's even more amazing that the Cardinals' only good start of those four—seven innings with one earned run on two hits and one walk from Kyle Lohse in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Nationals—was not one of those wins.
Lohse, who has been the Cards' best pitcher of 2012, will face San Francisco ace Matt Cain in a decisive Game 7 on Monday if the series gets there. But, as the Giants will see tonight, it is tough to beat Carpenter when he smells blood.