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St. Louis' Matt Carpenter tries to remain grounded despite hype

The Cardinals' second baseman, a leading NL MVP candidate, has been compared to Rogers Hornsby, Lou Brock and Stan Musial, but Carpenter says it's about the team not him.

October 10, 2013|By Kevin Baxter
  • Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter makes a play on a ball hit by Pirates slugger Pedro Alvarez during Game 1 of the NLDS.
Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter makes a play on a ball hit by Pirates… (David Carson / McClatchy-Tribune )

ST. LOUIS — Matt Carpenter has heard the names and seen the comparisons.

His regular season this year was the best by a Cardinals second baseman since Rogers Hornsby in 1925. With 69 runs batted in he is the team's most productive leadoff hitter since Lou Brock. And his 55 doubles broke Stan Musial's franchise record for a left-handed hitter.

St. Louis has become caught up in that trip down memory lane, but Carpenter has politely excused himself from making the journey himself.

Stan the Man, meet Modest Matt.

"It's definitely been a crazy ride," says Carpenter who, like Hornsby, Brock and Musial, put up all those numbers without putting on batting gloves. "I don't want to sound like the rah-rah cliche guy, but I've been so focused on what we're trying to accomplish as a team that you really don't have time to sit back and really think about it."

That's not false modesty, Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny insists.

"This kid has completely bought into that idea," he says. "It's about us and not himself."

In a lot of ways what the Cardinals accomplished as a team starts with Carpenter. Although St. Louis came within a victory of a second straight World Series appearance last fall, they finished the season without a leadoff hitter and without a regular second baseman.

Carpenter, meanwhile, was a prototypical leadoff hitter without a position, having played both corner infield positions and at both corner outfield spots as a rookie. He went back home to Texas and worked all winter with his father, Rick, a high school baseball coach, on learning how to play second.

The results have made Carpenter, 27, a leading candidate for the National League most-valuable-player award after a season in which he led the majors with 199 hits, 55 doubles and 126 runs while batting .318, sixth best in the NL.

His production was also the best in baseball for a leadoff hitter and for a second baseman.

"He was a difference-maker," Matheny says of Carpenter, a 13th-round pick out of Texas Christian in the 2009 draft. "He sets the tone for our offense. When he's going about it the right way, I don't think there's anybody that takes a tougher at-bat in the league."

That hasn't been true in the postseason, though, with Carpenter managing just a single in 19 at-bats in the division series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. So he's contributed in the field, playing flawlessly in the postseason and leading second basemen in putouts and double plays.

"There's more to the game of baseball than just hitting," Carpenter says. "You've got to do your best to put that aside and make plays for your team. I've been trying to do that."

Matheny is worried that Carpenter has begun pressing in the postseason spotlight, though the Cardinals were encouraged by a couple of good at-bats in the final game of the division series Wednesday.

"We've talked about him trying to do too much or putting too much pressure on himself. But there are also times that this is just a hard game," Matheny says. "It's tough trying to figure out this hitting thing, and you fall into those ruts every once in a while.

"The good ones don't stay in there very long, and you can see Matt Carpenter is on his way out."

Twitter: @kbaxter11

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