Pat Hentgen will take Roy Halladay at his word, and why not? If Halladay says, as he did on Thursday, that it was Hentgen who first introduced him to Chris Carpenter, starting a friendship that was strengthened by injuries and demotions and separation and which finds Halladay and Carpenter facing each other Friday night with the season on the line, who’s to argue?
“But, well, this is kind of funny,” Hentgen said, “but I honestly don’t remember introducing them. I mean, we all played together and we were teammates but …” Hentgen paused. “Roy said that?”
He did, indeed. And much more, ahead of the fifth and deciding game of the National League Division Series between Halladay’s Philadelphia Phillies and the Carpenter’s St. Louis Cardinals. This is destiny – has been since Halladay forced his trade from the Toronto Blue Jays to the Phillies before last season. Carpenter, who was drafted 17th overall in 1993 by the Blue Jays (two years before Halladay was chosen by the Blue Jays with the 15th pick of the draft), has been with the Cardinals since leaving the Blue Jays after an injury-plagued 2002 season. The Cardinals were prepared to wait through a year of shoulder rehabilitation and offered a major-league deal. The Blue Jays and then-general manager J.P. Ricciardi were not so inclined. One NL Cy Young Award, a World Series ring and 100 wins later – including five in the postseason – Carpenter and Halladay will go toe to toe and both teams will have the same approach: be aggressive early if the pair have their control, shut it down if they’re missing low and force them to elevate the ball. In Carpenter’s case, he’ll be hoping manager Tony La Russa’s criticism of home plate umpire Jerry Meals’ work in Carpenter’s start in Game 2 has been forgotten. La Russa was fined for in-game comments on TBS.
Hentgen, the Blue Jays bullpen coach who is in discussions with general manager Alex Anthopoulos about returning in 2012, is not surprised that Halladay and Carpenter have had long careers. “They were great rookies,” he said. “Hard workers, quiet. Good teammates. They threw hard, were great athletes, and could both spin the ball.
“I thought they’d both be 10-year major leaguers, guys with long careers. I mean, even if Doc hadn’t gone down to the minors to get his arm angle adjusted, he still would have figured it out. But multiple Cy Youngs? And Doc likely being a Hall of Famer? I don’t think you can ever say you see that in young guys. Still makes me a pretty good scout though, right?”
Halladay had to go down to the minors to have his delivery rebuilt by Mel Queen before he would find success at the major-league level. Carpenter’s learning curve included being something of a whipping boy for manager Jim Fregosi and pitching on opening day of the 2002 season at Fenway Park in Boston despite having a sore shoulder. He was gone early, and Ricciardi was livid. He expected more from a 27-year-old. “We had similar struggles,” Carpenter said. “Not about stuff, but about mental things, about being able to control our minds. When I was a young kid, it was all about: ‘Oh man, I’ve got Joe Shmo behind the plate and he doesn’t call a strike and doesn’t like young guys or whatever it was. Wind’s blowing out here in Baltimore … what am I going to do … these guys are going to crush me.’ We went through a lot of those times together.”
Halladay called Hentgen “the biggest influence on my career as a player. I couldn’t have come up with a better guy, and Chris would say the same thing.” Two hours later, Carpenter did just that. He spoke about his first year at spring training and sitting at Field 3 at the Blue Jays minor-league complex in Dunedin, Fla., wondering how many of his new teammates disliked him, and how Hentgen came over and started to talk to him. “Asked me how I felt, what I’m doing,” Carpenter said. “He kind of took me under his wing and, after, he showed me how to be a professional.”