For a month, the Yankees have struggled, playing sub-.500 baseball and in danger of not making the postseason. So, too, the Cardinals have been struggling to make it back, as well.
But these two intrepid veterans, whose ankle and neck problems would have ended the seasons of most men their age -- Pettitte 40, Carpenter 37 -- are throwing their bodies to the winds of autumn to try to get back.
"I know what it means to pitch in October," said Pettitte. "I know how important it is, what it feels like to walk to the mound with so much at stake, with the stadium filled, the crowd roaring. I live for it. When I'm away from it, I miss it. That's why I came back."
Indeed, Pettitte had retired and missed the 2011 season, but he could not stay away. In those Octobers he lives for, his postseason record is 19-10, including 2-0 in the 2009 World Series triumph over the Phillies. Carpenter, who came back after missing the entire 2003 season, has missed the '12 season after his ferocious run to the Fall Classic last October that included his unforgettable win over his good friend and fellow competitor, Roy Halladay, in the National League Division Series clincher. Carpenter went 4-1 in the 2006 World Series run, and he's 9-2 in his postseason career.
These are two men who transcend analytics, two men whose 28 career postseason wins reflect heart and soul and the capacity to ignore pain. They are needed, and so on Tuesday, Pettitte will start against the Toronto Blue Jays, and some day next week, Carpenter will start, probably against the Astros.
"It is incredible how hard Andy works, how he's willed himself to come back," said Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild. "Here he was out of the game, he comes back, suffers a serious injury and now his teamates trust and believe that he can help them win."
"No one is more respected or trusted than Chris Carpenter," Tony La Russa said during the NL Championship Series last season, when Zack Greinke commented that everyone "hates" Carpenter. When St. Louis beat Texas in the World Series, Carpenter's joy was reminiscent of the Bruins' Zdeno Chara lifting the Stanley Cup above his head in 2011.
Pettitte has started nine games this season, going 3-3 with a 3.22 ERA. He went to the Minors in the spring and pitched his way back to the Majors. He got back on May 13, and in the time until he was injured, the Yankees were 27-14; they have been 35-33 since.
"I'm ready. The unknown is my stamina, but I can build that," Pettitte said. "By Oct. 20, it won't be a problem.
"I was absolutely amazed at his command and his stuff when he originally came back from retirement," said Rothschild. "Now he's coming off a serious ankle injury, and not only does he have his command back, but I'm not sure his stuff isn't better."
Carpenter, whose operation to relief nerve compression in his neck in July was supposed to be year-ending, "has really thrown the ball well," said general manager John Mozeliak. "Holding him back has been a problem, but we have to go slow with him. He doesn't know how to hold back or go slow when it comes to competing and giving the Cardinals a chance to win."
When Pettitte returned to Spring Training after the Mitchell Report was revealed and he admitted to using some performance-enhancers, he held a news conference and apologized. At the time, I was at Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. My phone rang. It was Pettitte.
"I've known you since I got to the big leagues, you have always been good to me, I know how much you love and respect the game," he said. "So I wanted to get in touch and apologize, because I feel as if I let you and the game you love down."
Last October, Carpenter teared up talking about dealing with his daughter seeing the fracas with the Reds.
That's who they are. Against all sense and odds, they will return to try to get the Yankees and Cardinals back into the postseason, and every teammate who has ever dressed in the same clubhouse with Pettite and/or Carpenter will be rooting as hard for them as these two warriors pitched for every one of their teammates, proud to have ever known either one, or, better, both.