The news came on the radio yesterday, as I was pulling out of a Home Depot parking lot. Early evening, headlights just starting to flick on for the night. I changed the station to 101, and they were talking about Chris Carpenter.
It's funny; Chris Carpenter is a healthy adult American in the prime of his life, and yet my first instinct the moment I heard his name, before the context was explained, I had the exact reaction one always has when your mother suddenly mentions an elderly, not-doing-so-well aunt. That sort of, waiting for the other shoe to drop, I know where this is going feeling.
And then, as the afternoon drivetime schlubs doing the talking continued on, the puzzle started to come together like the world's worst version of Clue, where you find out Colonel Mustard did it in study with a thoracic something-or-other.
The rational part of my mind, the part that writes sports articles on a regular basis, immediately started cranking out possibilities for this year's rotation, including the return of Kyle Lohse, since he apparently misread the market the same as a lot of us here did (raises hand; guilty as charged), and the various permutations of Shelby Rosenthal one could put together, and the fact Lance Lynn really needs to get himself back on track and pitch 2013 the way he did the first half of 2012 if the Cards are going to have any kind of chance this year.
The rest of me, though, was just sad, thinking of how many times we've seen Chris Carpenter come back, over and over (and over) again, rising from the dead like a pitching version of Jason Voorhees, all the time with a bum shoulder on his trail, stalking him, waiting to finally bring him low. The Man in Red fled across the Great Plains, and Thoracic Outlet followed, that sort of thing.
If it is, in fact, over for Carpenter, one of the all-time Cardinal greats is now gone. It's a little funny to think of him that way, considering how intermittent his career with the club was, the constant cycle of injury and brilliance and breath-holding for more injury. His time here played out like a Greek tragedy, the hero of yore struck down by a fatal flaw, a body that just didn't hold up for him time and time again.
When he was on the mound, though, nothing could be more beautiful, or more terrifying, than watching the man perform. I never saw Bob Gibson in person, but I think we all got a little taste at times with Carp, a man who did not give a fuck of any sort, and did not particularly care who knew it. Short of walking up to hitters before an at-bat and asking them, "Have you seen this boy?" I don't know how he could have been any more intimidating, to be quite honest.
Chris Carpenter pitched like he should have been wearing face paint.
This still may not be the end for Carpenter, I suppose, but you have to believe the man is tired. He came back last year for one last great hurrah, defying time and Mother Nature and whichever god it is that governs shoulders -- Shouldiferus, I think -- but when it's the same ghost every night you're running from, maybe it's time to give up. Or maybe not. But, this time, well, it just feels...different.
It really sucks when your heroes get old, even if you know they have to someday.