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Chris Carpenter begins road back tonight in Springfield

9:44 PM, Jul 15, 2013   |    comments
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(KSDK Sports) -- The pitcher who arguably is this generation's Bob Gibson began his next chapter tonight at Hammons Field.

But might it be the beginning of his last chapter?

St. Louis Cardinals ace right-hander Chris Carpenter launched his latest - and perhaps most-anticipated - comeback in an injury rehab assignment with Double-A Springfield.

Carpenter pitched 2.2 innings before as standing room only crowd,  giving up six hits, three runs all earned, two walks, while striking out five.  Probably not the inning he hoped, but he had to start somewhere.

"He's just a model of consistency," said fan Danny Hogan, who spent Sunday putting out "feelers for tickets." "He gets the ball out there and doesn't mess around."

Springfield catcher Cody Stanley couldn't hold back a grin, either. He was Carpenter's battery mate tonight.

"I'm anxious to pick his brain," Stanley said. "Catching him is different. He has pinpoint accuracy. And when he's on the mound, he has a purpose."

Carpenter, who will be on a 60-pitch limit, made an injury rehab appearance here in June 2008. But far more eyes likely will be on this one.

The 38-year-old right-hander is only a year removed from a stunning medical procedure called neurogenic thoracic outlet surgery. In essence, a rib was removed in order to alleviate pain in his neck and shoulder. He made six late-season starts, including three in the NL playoffs.

However, Carpenter experienced numbness in his pitching hand in February, at which point it was announced that he would miss spring training. But he has slowly worked his way up to tonight, which also is notable because the July 31 trade deadline is just around the corner.

"We're just looking for him to get his work in," Springfield manager Mike Shildt said. "We'll defer to him on a lot of it."

Carpenter certainly has delivered plenty of memories since signing a minor league contract in 2003.

The big-league Cardinals are 125-73 in his starts over the past nine seasons. Carpenter was a 21-game winner and the NL Cy Young award winner in 2005, a year before winning three of five postseason starts as St. Louis captured its first World Series since 1982.

But his reputation only grew in the 2011 postseason.

Carpenter was 5-1 in six starts, including a three-hitter in the decisive Game 5 of the NL Division Series in which he outdueled the Philadelphia Phillies' Roy Halladay in a 1-0 win.

Carpenter won all three clinching games in the postseason, drawing Gibson comparisons for his bulldog-like approach.

"I don't think that's unfair to say," said Springfield general manager Matt Gifford, a lifelong Cardinals fan who got to know Carpenter when he worked in St. Louis. "He's the epitome of the Cardinal way."

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