Carpenter wins National League Cy Young Award

NEW YORK -- Chris Carpenter was ready to call it quits.

Toiling in Double-A two years ago, trying to work his way back from shoulder surgery, he pitched a game in Tennessee just before the All-Star break and couldn't even play catch afterward because his right arm hurt so much.

Carpenter knew something was wrong again, even though the doctors didn't think so. He hadn't seen his infant son in about a month, and all he wanted to do was go home to New Hampshire with his wife, Alyson.

"I'll never forget the night we sat here until about 3 o'clock in the morning crying and talking about my career," Carpenter said. "I was ready to be done. And she didn't think I was, that I would regret it if I didn't take that one more step and try to come back again. And the next thing you know, I got my second surgery and here we are today. And I know that if it wasn't for her I wouldn't be here."

All that hard work and patience was rewarded when Carpenter won the NL Cy Young Award on Thursday.

After going 21-5 with a 2.83 ERA for the St. Louis Cardinals, he received 19 of 32 first-place votes and finished with 132 points in balloting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

He beat out Florida lefty Dontrelle Willis, becoming the first Cardinals pitcher to claim the honor since Hall of Famer Bob Gibson in 1970.

"I can't believe I won," Carpenter said. "My son did a little dance for me and my wife gave me a big hug. We were really excited about it."

Willis, who was 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA, was listed first on 11 ballots, second on 18 and third on three for 112 points. Seven-time winner Roger Clemens got the other two first-place votes and came in a distant third at age 43.

The Rocket led the majors with a 1.87 ERA, but a lack of run support from his NL champion Houston Astros limited Clemens to a 13-8 record, which surely cost him votes.

Willis was all class in shrugging off any disappointment.

"I can always tell my kids, even when they stop listening to their old dad, that I was in the running with Roger Clemens and Chris Carpenter to win a prestigious award," Willis said. "It's not that bad to be the second-best pitcher in the league."

Balloting for all BBWAA awards is conducted at the end of the regular season and excludes the playoffs, when Carpenter went 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA in three starts. St. Louis was eliminated by the Astros in the NL Championship Series.

Carpenter began his career with Toronto on a late 1990s staff that eventually included three other Cy Young Award winners: Clemens, Roy Halladay and Pat Hentgen.

After compiling a 49-50 record in his first six seasons, Carpenter had surgery in September 2002 to repair a tear in his pitching shoulder, and the Blue Jays wanted to send him back to the minors. He refused the assignment and chose to become a free agent before signing with St. Louis.

Carpenter missed the 2003 season while rehabilitating his shoulder and was forced to have another operation in July to remove scar tissue.

The Cardinals were determined to remain patient. Yet at that point, who knew if they would ever get much from him?

"I really felt that there was more in there," Carpenter said. "When I came back last year, I knew I wasn't going to take anything for granted. ... Mentally, I grew up a lot."

Finally healthy in 2004, Carpenter went 15-5 with a 3.46 ERA to earn NL comeback player of the year honors from his peers. But he missed the postseason because of a biceps injury, and St. Louis was swept in the World Series by Boston.

Carpenter won 13 straight decisions this year from June 14 through Sept. 8, helping the Cardinals to the best record in baseball (100-62). He threw 241 2/3 innings, struck out 213 batters and got the best of several other aces around the league.

Carpenter beat Clemens in both of their matchups. He also topped Roy Oswalt, Carlos Zambrano, Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett and Willis.

"I was locked in mentally for a very long period of time," Carpenter said. "Next thing you know, your teammates are behind you saying, 'Wow! Look at this guy go.'"

He and Willis led the NL with seven complete games apiece. Willis had five shutouts to Carpenter's four.

Carpenter admitted losing focus a bit in September once St. Louis secured a postseason spot, and he struggled in his final three starts of the regular season. Some thought that might give Willis the opening he needed to win.

But those outings were really nothing more than playoff tuneups for Carpenter -- he had a 2.31 ERA when the Cardinals clinched the NL Central.

"It's a great feeling," Carpenter said during a conference call from his New Hampshire home. "There's not a lot of people that come from this area, never mind play in the big leagues."

Bartolo Colon of the Los Angeles Angels won the AL Cy Young Award on Tuesday. The next award to be handed out is the AL MVP on Monday.

Gibson is the only other St. Louis winner, taking the honor in 1968 and '70.

Carpenter gets a $50,000 bonus for winning the award, and Clemens gets $25,000 for finishing third.