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10/05/09 1:05 PM EST

Carpenter earns NL Comeback nod

MLB.com reporters honor hurler's dominant campaign

ST. LOUIS -- If Chris Carpenter had enjoyed this season a year ago, he still would have been the National League Comeback Player of the Year. That sums up the wonder that is his 2009 campaign.

Carpenter was named the winner of the annual award, voted on by MLB.com beat reporters, on Monday. He may well have more hardware coming his way as well, since he's at least a candidate for a second National League Cy Young Award. For now, though, there's little doubt that Carpenter had the league's most impressive comeback in '09. Few had farther to come, and few ascended higher -- and no one could say they did both.

"When you refer to somebody as being a great this or great that, and you have to give examples of why, so people understand it, for him, this kind of season is an example of how great a pitcher he is," manager Tony La Russa said.

Carpenter's 2009 season stands on its own, in any context. He went 17-4 with a 2.24 ERA, pacing the National League in winning percentage and ERA. He struck out 144 against 38 walks, allowed seven home runs all year, and fell just short of a fourth 200-inning season. He's almost certain to be one of the top three finishers in Cy Young balloting, and he's going to start Game 1 of the Division Series for St. Louis on Wednesday.

"If you're talking about season-wise, I did everything I could, every time out," Carpenter said after his final start of the regular season Thursday in Cincinnati. "I definitely feel like I could have been better, but you take what you do, and as long as you can look yourself in the mirror and say that every time you pitched, you gave it your best shot, you can live with that. You can sleep at night."

If he'd just had an off year in 2008, or missed some time with a sore leg or something like that, he'd be a candidate to be considered as the Comeback Player of the Year. But of course, it was much more than that. Before '09, the last time that Carpenter was fully healthy for any length of time was the 2006 playoffs.

Here are the voting results for the American League and National League Comeback Player of the Year awards.
American League
Aaron Hill, TOR145388
Victor Martinez, BOS69663
Michael Cuddyer, MIN35434
Jorge Posada, NYY34431
Russell Branyan, SEA33226
Scott Podsednik, CWS11210
Juan Rivera, LAA147
Rajai Davis, OAK125
Andruw Jones, TEX114
Travis Hafner, CLE11
Fernando Rodney, DET11
National League
Chris Carpenter, STL272141
Yovani Gallardo, MIL9330
Josh Johnson, FLA8125
Todd Helton, COL14421
Aaron Boone, HOU2313
Pedro Martinez, PHI3413
Luis Castillo, NYM147
Jeff Weaver, LAD26
Jonny Gomes, CIN136
Peter Moylan, ATL66
Mike MacDougal, WSH22

Coming off an outstanding 2006 season that culminated in a World Series title, Carpenter started Opening Night in 2007 and then did not pitch again all year. He came down with elbow discomfort before his second start, and underwent elbow surgery. When he tried unsuccessfully to come back to the active roster following that operation, it was determined that he would need Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery.

He had that surgery in July 2007, and was out until midseason '08. A brief and effective return in the summer of '08 -- four games, three starts, a 1.76 ERA -- was aborted when he felt something amiss in his shoulder. It turned out to be a nerve problem in the back of the shoulder, similar to the condition that kept him out of the 2004 playoffs, and he shut it down once again.

When Carpenter came to Spring Training in 2009, nothing was certain. And then he blitzed the Grapefruit League, pitched well early in the year and clearly established himself as the same pitcher he had always been. Even after a five-week disabled-list stint due to a strained oblique muscle, he came back as strong as ever. Now Carpenter is in line for another postseason, he's won another award, and more may be on the way.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.