For first time as a visitor in the place he called home, Matt Carpenter draws thunderous ovation from Busch Stadium crowd

Carpenter earned base hits in his first two at-bats against Cardinals’ starter Dakota Hudson.
New York Yankees' Matt Carpenter tips his cap as he steps up to bat during the first inning of...
New York Yankees' Matt Carpenter tips his cap as he steps up to bat during the first inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals Friday, Aug. 5, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)(Jeff Roberson | AP)
Published: Aug. 5, 2022 at 9:00 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) - From the moment St. Louis selected Matt Carpenter in the 13th round of the 2009 MLB Draft, all the way up to the conclusion of the 2021 season, the lanky native Texan was a Cardinal.

His entire professional career was spent as a member of the organization that took a chance on him when he was a redshirt senior out of TCU. His signing bonus was a thousand bucks—almost incomprehensibly low compared to the gaudy dollars that get thrown around to players selected in the early rounds of the draft these days.

As the dozen years since those humble beginnings would show, Matt Carpenter just needed a chance. The Cardinals provided one.

That connection to the team and the city that welcomed Carpenter before it knew what he would become is what made Friday’s moment for Carpenter, the now-former Cardinal, so special. Carpenter made his first-career visit to Busch Stadium as a member of the road team Friday, batting third in the lineup for the New York Yankees amid his resurgent campaign for the Bronx Bombers.

There was no Long Hot Summer Day—his signature walk-up song as a Cardinal—playing over the stadium loudspeakers when Carpenter stepped into the batter’s box for his turn in the top of the first inning on Friday night at Busch. But the ovation for the 36-year-old slugger was so thunderous that you wouldn’t have been able to hear the music, anyway.

When the emotion of the moment subsided for a teary-eyed Carpenter, the veteran left-handed batter continued his unlikely career renaissance by working the count full against Dakota Hudson—a vintage Carpenter event—before stroking a base hit through the right side of the infield. The crowd applauded the result to a level that would suggest it was more than just the Yankees faithful in attendance appreciating the effort.

Through two at-bats Friday, Carpenter is 2-for-4, raising his batting average to .328 on the season—nearly double the .169 batting mark he posted in his final year with the Cardinals in 2021. Though Carpenter has not accrued enough plate appearances to qualify for statistical leaderboards, meaning the sample size is admittedly small, there’s no questioning the remarkable nature of his comeback this year with New York.

Carpenter’s OPS on the season is 1.219—significantly better than both of the MVP candidates who were also present in Friday’s starting lineups at Busch Stadium: Aaron Judge (1.064) and Paul Goldschmidt (1.022). He has 15 home runs on the year, more than double his grand total of seven between 2020 and 2021—in about one-third of the plate appearances from those two years combined.

Even the most impressive stretches from Carpenter’s white-hot summer of 2018 pale in comparison to what he has done through 44 games with the Yankees this season.

Cardinals fans who rooted in dismay last season as Carpenter failed to compile an OPS even half as productive as the one he now boasts as a Yankee are surely scratching their heads as to how this career on life support could suddenly appear so rejuvenated. A story from February in The Athletic chronicled Carpenter’s extensive journey to find his swing over the winter. He picked up tips from Joey Votto, Matt Holliday, and perhaps most importantly, the Driveline Baseball lab in Washington state, at long last leaning into analytics to fix his game after years of admitted resistance. Carpenter was encouraged by the results he found over the off-season, but still awaited the most critical step of his expedition: implementing the changes during game action.

After beginning the season with a minor-league affiliate of the Texas Rangers, Carpenter requested his release after 21 games in which he posted strong numbers, but didn’t receive consideration for a promotion to the big leagues. As Carpenter told the Bally Sports pregame show Friday, there was a time when Carpenter thought that might signal the end of his Major League career.

The Yankees, though, came calling. They signed Carpenter to an MLB contract in late May and immediately began putting him into the lineup. Carpenter delivered, delivered some more, and then just kept going to the pleasant surprise of a whole new group of fans who were eagerly discovering how fun it can be to watch him play baseball when he’s at his best.

For an organization with as much of a storied history as any in professional sports, Carpenter found himself occupying lists alongside the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in Yankees lore.

The man who has improbably ascended to cult hero status this summer in the Bronx was once a career Cardinal, rendering his incredible rediscovery this season something of a vexing fever dream for St. Louisans.

But for as strange as the turn of events has been for Carpenter this season, it’s also been a serendipitous situation to watch from afar. Friday, Cardinals fans took the chance up close to express their sincerest gratitude for the years Carpenter devoted to St. Louis—as good a sign as any that he’ll one day find his way into a red jacket courtesy of that same fan base.