Former Cardinal’s career seemed on the brink. Now Matt Carpenter is a Yankees star

Matt Carpenter's final game at Busch Stadium seemed to pass with almost no notice.
Rain cut short the Cardinals' 3-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs last October 3, and Carpenter's 3-1 tag didn't come with a big farewell or a standing ovation from the assembled crowd. Instead, after seven and a half innings, he quietly met up with his family near the home shelter and stared at the spot on the field where he'd taken a long, lonely walk that morning.
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At the time, it seemed a fair bet that his career would end in ignominy, averaging just .203 with .671 OPS in his last three seasons in St. Louis.
His return this weekend comes with a batting average north of .320 and a slugging percentage approaching .800, cemented in the middle of the lineup for the New York Yankees, currently baseball's best team.
Who saw this coming?
"It's easy to forget what you did in that game," said Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong, who has been through his own troubles in recent years. "It's all about, 'What have you done for me lately?' Yesterday's home runs don't count today.
“(Carpenter) obviously wasn't finished. He went back and did what he had to do this offseason and came out swinging and now he's back in the big leagues.
Part of what he had to do this offseason was visit the Marucci batting lab in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with former teammates Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt. The two remaining cardinals got away with new bat models, oversized buttons fitted as counterweights.
Carpenter came away partially with the understanding that the tools at his disposal might not have been properly appreciated by him.
"I just never bought into (analytics) like I should have," Carpenter told The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal this winter as he summarized the work he's done to find himself again .
Matt Carpenter, then with the St. Louis Cardinals, makes a hack on a pitch in the 2020 season. After a steep descent, Carpenter has reignited his career with the New York Yankees, currently the best team in the major leagues.
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From the abyss to the best team in baseball
With his career on the brink, Carpenter reexamined his relationship with dates and used it to overtake a swing that was barely competitive towards the end of his stint in St. Louis.
"He talked last year about trying to make changes based on his performance," Goldschmidt said, "and I know he's been working hard. I know a lot of work went into it.”
While the payout was dramatic, it wasn't instant. Carpenter signed a minor league contract with his hometown Texas Rangers late in spring training and did not make the team. He spent two months working at Triple-A Round Rock and although he hit .275 with a .613 batting percentage in limited service at that level, the under-.500 Rangers told Carpenter they had no place for him.
He asked for his release on May 19 and signed with the Yankees a week later. He was in the lineup the day he was signed and had his first homer as a Bronx Bomber the day after.
Long Ball Specialist "Moustache"
His 15 long balls in his first 115 at at-bats with New York equals the total he hit at 416 at-bats as a cardinal in 2019 and is more than double the seven he hit in 2020 and 2021 combined. To have the ability to hit those homers, however, Carpenter had to change more than just his swing.
With a longstanding policy of banning players from wearing beards, the Yankees also forced Carpenter to show the world a lot more of his chin than he has in recent seasons, leaving only a bushy mustache that is growing heavily reminds the look of Don Mattingly from the 80s.
The new styling has some fans in the Cardinals clubhouse — DeJong suggested Carpenter was in a "mustache-off" with Miles Mikolas — but it also has its detractors. Manager Oliver Marmol, whose first roommate on the street as a pro player, Carpenter, drew a light-hearted and unflattering comparison to an aquatic rodent — and not for the first time.
"I'm very happy for him"
Carpenter will certainly trade Hairy for Slap.
"I'm very happy for him," Goldschmidt said, acknowledging it was a difficult admission given that Carpenter is now an opponent. “To see him have that success after all that hard work, he was in the minor leagues for two months. It's not easy to come back and do that after 10+ years in the big leagues."
He hit that 10-year mark towards the end of the 2021 season, and that too passed without notice. That scant recognition, and whimpering at the end of a franchise icon's time with the Cardinals, is uncharacteristic of the club and is sure to change this weekend as it steps onto the plate for the first time.
After years of fearing that Carpenter wouldn't bat, Cardinals fans will instead feel what opposing pitchers have felt for years, and are now feeling again -- fear that he will, and that the expectation that the ball will still be off can jump his bat.
Paul Goldschmidt
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1B
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#46
Paul DeJong
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ss
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#11
Nolan Arenado
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3B
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#28
Miles Nicholas
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SP
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#39

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