Friends, Rivals And A Deciding Game

Chris Carpenter in his Blue Jays days

Now, it really does all come down to this.

Tonight, game five of the National League Division Series, Cardinals at Phillies, winner moves on to the NLCS to face either the Brewers or Diamondbacks … (Hey, how ’bout those D-Backs!?!) The Cards September to remember has continued into October.

And, of course, there’s the pitching match-up — perhaps you’ve heard? Chris Carpenter vs. Roy Halladay, the longtime friends and former teammates who’ve never pitched against each other before, doing it now with everything on the line.

Could they have imagined this?

Apparently, yes, as Halladay said during a news conference yesterday in Philadelphia. “Not only is Chris a good pitcher but he’s a good friend, and we’ve talked about this scenario. I think it’s something we’re both looking forward to,” he said. “If you’re going to do it for the first time, might as well be now.”

Tony La Russa knows that it’s special — he took the risk of Carpenter going on short rest Sunday to set up this very scenario, and was asked about the two starters yesterday.

“It’s not just a match-up of two great pitchers. It’s their background together. I don’t know if it’s ever happened in an elimination game like this with two guys that were teammates — minor leagues, major leagues, still that continued friendship,” he said during a news conference. “For the two of them, it’s classic. For the rest of us, it’s a great opportunity. Very exciting.”

Chris Carpenter was even unavoidably smiling yesterday when talking about facing his old pal, describing how they’ve fished together and vacationed together and that Halladay just invited him to go fishing together this winter.

The two are very similar, even down to their build — each is 6’6 and 230 pounds, right handed. Yet both endured struggles during their days with the Blue Jays, and both have obviously learned and grown and succeeded since their days pitching together.

But it didn’t come without hard work, especially on the mental approach to the game, as noted in the N.Y. Times last week:

Carpenter described staying up in his hotel room with Roy Halladay when the two played together in Toronto. The two studied the work of Harvey Dorfman, a sports psychologist and mental skills coach, and over beers, they would discuss different techniques for focusing their thoughts.

“Me and Doc went through a lot of the same things at the same time,” Carpenter said of Halladay, the Phillies’ starter for Game 1. “We had similar struggles at the same time. And it was not about stuff, it was about being able to control our minds.”

He talked more about that yesterday also. “We both knew that we had quality stuff. But mentally as young kids with high expectations on you, this game is hard, and if you can’t control that stuff in your mind and the game goes a thousand miles an hour, you’re going to have a hard time executing, and fortunately we were able to figure it out.”

Halladay as a Jay

Halladay mentioned that mental approach yesterday also. “Coming up … we were supposed to come in and lead this team and be these great pitchers right out of the gate, and I think it was tough for both of us not really knowing how to go about that. But I really did feel like we kind of learned together, more mentally how to approach the game and how to play the game, and it was a lot of fun.”

While Carpenter didn’t achieve his success until leaving the Blue Jays — he was 49-50 with a 4.83 ERA for Toronto — he’s obviously excelled as a Cardinal and of course won the Cy Young Award in 2005 plus a World Series championship in 2006. Halladay achieved much as a Blue Jay, compiling a 148-76 record and a 3.43 ERA plus a Cy Young in 2003, but also has thrived upon leaving. He has a 40-16 record for the Phillies, won last year’s Cy Young, had a perfect game on May 29, 2010, and a no-hitter in his postseason debut last Oct. 6.

CC was asked yesterday if he and Roy, given how ultra-competitive they are, will be able to talk about tonight once they’re on a boat fishing this winter, regardless of how it turns out. “We’ll be able to talk about it, I’m sure, no question about it,” Chris said. “Even though we’re competitive and wanting to win, we’re still friends and it’s not going to end anything. It’s not that bad.”

But, after tonight, only one of them will move on to pitch in the NLCS while the other can start preparing for that vacation.

Here’s hoping our guy is the one moving on.

 

On a side note: a very happy birthday to my uncle, Jim O’Brien. He’s a lifelong Cardinals fan and was a big influence on my becoming one in 2000. And, 11 years ago today, my first season as a Cards fan, they gave him a good birthday present by winning game three to sweep the Braves in the NLDS. Let’s hope another birthday victory is in store tonight!


Christine Coleman is the senior St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email aaronmilesfastball@gmail.com. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates.

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