Today Major League Baseball said goodbye to two of the more intense pitchers of the last decade; Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter. And how fitting is it that the duo, friends off the field, former teammates and fierce competitors on the field, and made out of the same mold; retire on the same day. Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter will not only be linked together because of their similarities but because of a game that will go down in baseball history as “The Duel”, Game 5 of the 2011 National League Division Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals.
The pair both came up through the Toronto Blue Jays organization with Carpenter pitching his first six seasons with the team and Halladay spending his first 12 seasons North of the border. They were teammates for three seasons there with each going through typical early pitching struggles. Carpenter is even credited for helping teach Halladay his cutter. The two remained friends but their stories reached a climax on October 7, 2011; Game 5. “The Duel”.
Halladay and Carpenter were made of the same mold. Big power pitchers. Intense competitors. The guy you want on the mound. Halladay’s numbers looked better because of his ability to stay healthy but when Carpenter was healthy you could argue for either one. Each won a Cy Young award and each were their teams choice to take the mound in Game 5, the winner go home game.
Halladay was coming off a 19-6 season with a 2.35 earned-run average. Carpenter was just 11-9 with a 3.45 earned-run average in the regular season. Philadelphia had baseball’s best record and was at home while St. Louis was baseball’s hottest team down the stretch. Game 5 was the setting for the epic duel.
The visiting Cardinals struck first, and what would be the only time in the game. A lead-off triple by Rafael Furcal started the game for the Cardinals. Skip Shumaker followed with a double to put the Cardinals up 1-0. That would be it for the scoring but not the excitement. Halladay worked around an eighth inning jam that saw the Cardinals put the first two batters on base with the heart of their order coming up. That would be Halladay’s last inning of the game; retiring Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday to end the threat.
Carpenter meanwhile was on cruise control but had one last test to face, the ninth inning against the Phillies big three. Carpenter started the 9th having already thrown over 100 pitches and needed to retire Chase Utley, Hunter Pence and Ryan Howard; a trio that combined for 55 home runs and 195 runs batted in during the season. Carpenter got Utley to hit a fly ball, forced a ground out to Pence and fittingly struck out Howard looking to end the game; completing one of the best dual pitching performances in the history of baseball. The 1-0 final marked the first ever clinching game of that score in National League post-season history and was just the third ever winner go home game to end with a 1-0 final.
Halladay, who entered the game retiring the last 21 Cardinal batters he faced (Game 1) would finish the game going 8 innings and allowing just six hits while striking out seven on 126 pitches. Chris Carpenter, staked to the one run lead, was even more dominant. He pitched all 9 innings, allowing just three hits while striking out three on 110 pitches.
St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa said it best, “I think Carpenter will remember this game forever; and so will the Cardinal fans.” On the other end Halladay and the Phillies fans should remember this game as well. Not just as a game in which they came so close and feeling like their season was shortened. But because they were part of a historical performance. One that will be talked about for generations. Pitchers that could fit in during any decade of baseball. Ones that never asked to be taken out of games after six innings but rather two pitchers that would throw until their arms fells off for a chance to give their teams a win.
What fans saw that night was a pitching performance by two pitchers that left everything on the field. And in the end that will be their lasting images. The two were never the same again after that October night. Chris Carpenter took the mound just six times over the next two seasons for the Cardinals. Roy Halladay, while making 38 starts the next two years, was just 15-13 in those games. Although two seasons passed the memory of seeing two of the game’s ultimate competitors, and friends, battle each other on the mound pitch by pitch; that is what I will forever remember about the two. A chilly October night, fans on the edge of their seats from the opening pitch to the final strike. Two pitchers…two friends…two men, putting everything they had into a game they love.