With three homers and 16 total bases, Cardinals pull Matt Carpenter from game on verge of history

Jack Baer

In just the sixth inning of the Cardinals’ game against the Cubs, Matt Carpenter might have been an at-bat from making history.

The Cardinals infielder opened the game on Friday with a leadoff homer. Then he capped off a rally in the second inning with another homer to put the Cardinals up 5-0. Then doubled twice during a seven-run fourth inning. And in the sixth inning, Carpenter bashed his third homer to put the Cardinals up 15-1 in a game they ended up winning 18-5 to open the second half of the season.

All told, Carpenter posted a 5-for-5 day with three homers and two doubles in a performance that set multiple records. His 16 total bases set the Cardinals’ franchise record and his five extra-base hits tied the MLB record for extra-base hits in a single game. And all in just six innings.

Of course, the sixth inning is when that story ended, because as the Cardinals took the field in the bottom of the frame, Carpenter was on the bench. With no injury news to speak of, it was an apparent act of mercy by the Cardinals that also happened to cost Carpenter, who was due at least one more plate appearance, a shot at even more history.

What was Matt Carpenter close to doing?

The obvious feat that Matt Carpenter was close to accomplishing was hitting a fourth home run. Had Carpenter gone deep one more time, Friday would have marked just the 19th four-homer game in MLB history and the third in the last two seasons. Scooter Gennett of the Reds and J.D. Martinez, then with the D-backs, both accomplished the feat last season.

That’s one exclusive club, but Carpenter could also have set an outright record with one swing of the bat. A homer would have given the Cardinals veteran a 20-total base game, topping Shawn Green’s record in 2002 with the Dodgers when he hit four homers, a double and a single.

Between tying the record for home runs in a game and setting the record for both total bases and extra-base hits, it seems pretty clear Carpenter had a shot at posting the best offensive game in MLB history.

Why did the Cardinals pull Matt Carpenter?

The obvious answer is that the Cardinals were up 15-1 at the time they pulled Carpenter, well into the territory in which you see regulars get pulled and position players start to pitch (second baseman Tommy La Stella and catcher Victor Caratini both took the mound for the Cubs).

At that point, keeping your stars in is seen as both an unnecessary risk and a good way to provoke the other team. But then again, there might be an exception to the unwritten rules when one of the players on the happy side of the beatdown has three homers and 16 total bases. And it’s worth noting that the Cardinals’ lone All-Star hitter, Yadier Molina, stayed in the game, moving from catcher to take over first base from Carpenter.

With one more swing of the bat, Matt Carpenter might have posted the best offensive day in MLB history.
With one more swing of the bat, Matt Carpenter might have posted the best offensive day in MLB history.

It’s also not like the Cardinals were the first team to have a player near four homers during a beatdown. The D-backs won 13-0 during Martinez’s four-homer game, while the Reds won 13-1 during Gennett’s. During Mark Whiten’s four-homer game in 1993, the only such game in Cardinals history, the Cardinals won by a score of 15-2.

Mike Shildt’s third game as interim manager

Making the decision to pull Carpenter was interim manager Mike Shildt, who took the helm for the Cardinals after manager Mike Matheny was fired during some turbulent times for the franchise. The 49-year-old Shildt, who is now 2-1 as Cardinals manager, has nine seasons of managing in the minor leagues under his belt, so he’s not exactly new to the world of decision-making in baseball.

Shildt isn’t the first rookie MLB manager to make an unpopular decision that cost a player a shot at history. In just his fifth game as Dodgers manager, Dave Roberts pulled Ross Stripling, who was making his MLB debut, after 7.1 no-hit innings because the former Tommy John patient hit 100 pitches. Roberts also made the unpopular decision to pull Rich Hill after seven perfect innings due to blister concerns.

Of course, both those decisions were made due to health concerns, which weren’t present when Shildt pulled Carpenter.

Matt Carpenter’s recent surge

Carpenter’s numbers are looking strong now, with a .274/.381/.576 line and 23 homers, but it’s easy to forget that the 32-year-old was hitting his nadir in mid-May, when he was hitting just .140 at one point. Since then, Carpenter had been on an absolute tear, hitting .330/.424/.679 between May 16 and the All-Star break. With his performance on Friday, it’s looking likely that Carpenter’s tear isn’t over.

Friday will go down as one of the greatest games of Carpenter’s career and he could very well be on his way to even more, but it’s hard to look at a game and not wonder if it could have been an even better story had he received just one more at-bat.

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