ST. LOUIS – It’s become a tradition for St. Louis Cardinals fans to welcome back former players during their first visits as an opponent. For one of the latest to leave the team after a long career, that was no different.
Matt Carpenter drew a loud standing ovation Friday night in his first visit back to St. Louis, where he played 11 seasons with the Cardinals.
Carpenter, batting third in a star-filled lineup with the New York Yankees, tipped his helmet to 46,000-plus fans in the first inning. He was also welcomed back with a hug from catcher and longtime teammate Yadier Molina.
“A lot of special memories for sure,” Carpenter told the FOX2 sports crew before Friday’s game. “I’m looking forward to getting out there and seeing the fans. Just being back in St. Louis, being back at Busch Stadium, is pretty special.”
Serving as the designated hitter Friday, Carpenter delivered two hard-hit singles in his first two at-bats and nearly had a third, which replay review determined to be the final out of the game.
“It’s going to be weird competing against them, but that’s what I’m here to do,” said Carpenter on the series against his longtime team. “Being able to separate that, will be a challenge, but that’s certainly something I’m going to do.”
The 36-year-old is enjoying a late-career surge in the batter’s box, hitting .325 with 15 home runs and 36 RBIs through just 44 games with the Yankees this season.
Many Cardinals fans remember Carpenter for his offensive prowess and defensive versatility in his decade-plus stint with the Cardinals. Heavily used as a leadoff hitter, Carpenter slugged 155 home runs behind a .264 career batting average. He also played five positions over 11 seasons with the Cardinals.
“My five-year-old, I’m not sure he’s grasped it yet. Depending on the day, he tells his buddy I’m a Cardinal or Yankee. We told him last week we were coming to St. Louis. [He was] pretty excited.”
Despite his early-career success, Carpenter dealt with various injuries and hitting slumps over the last three seasons that limited his playing time and ultimately led him to seek new opportunities beyond 2021.
Carpenter signed a deal with the Texas Rangers in the offseason, but was unable to make the Opening Day roster out of Spring Training and was released in May. Shortly after that, contemplating how much longer he might play baseball, he got a career-changing call from the Yankees.
“He could’ve quit. It’s been a good run, and he could’ve just rode off into the sunset with his head held high. He still felt like he wanted to play,” said Carpenter’s longtime teammate Adam Wainwright on Bally Sports Midwest prior to Friday’s game. “He’s a guy that was a huge part of this team for a long time. He’s going to be a red-jacket [Cardinals Hall of Famer] here.”
Carpenter is now joined in New York by former Cardinals outfielder Harrison Bader. The Cardinals traded Bader in a last-minute trade deadline deal for starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery. Bader will likely miss a few more weeks of action as he deals with an ongoing foot injury.