To define a baseball "ace" can be a fool's errand. You might twist yourself into a pretzel trying to delineate what makes one pitcher an ace and another something short of that.
C.J. Wilson, who has spent this postseason auditioning for his upcoming payday? He doesn't feel like an ace. Not with his perpetual struggles to control the strike zone.
Chris Carpenter, who signed away his right to shop for big dollars in a year? He feels like an ace.
Nevertheless, through seven innings, these evenly matched clubs stood tied at 2, with Carpenter just barely surviving the sixth after Wilson checked out at 5 1/3 innings.
Wilson, after walking five (including two intentional passes to Albert Pujols), allowed two runs and drew a standing ovation in what might prove to be his final appearance in a Rangers uniform.
Carpenter? He allowed two runs in seven innings in what -- barring a shocking development -- won't be his final game in a Cardinals uniform.
"If you want to choose somebody from the St. Louis Cardinals to pitch that game, it's Chris," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said late Sunday night after the Cardinals dropped Game 4 to Texas. "I mean, there isn't anything about pitching on the road in a hostile environment. I think he actually likes it, pitches better.
"His problem is going to be good hitters, and he'll have to pitch effectively. But we love playing behind him because we know he's going to compete as hard as he can. He's got a lot to compete with."
Carpenter, 36, is not as dominant as he used to be, and that's why people (myself included) counted out the Cardinals when they lost their best pitcher, Adam Wainwright, to Tommy John surgery in spring training. A well-rounded pitching staff helped St. Louis execute its miraculous comeback to edge out the Braves and make the playoffs, and Carpenter overcame a slow start to put up a 3.45 ERA in 237 1/3 innings.
And along the way, Carpenter ensured that he'll be wearing a Cardinals uniform for another two seasons. St. Louis had a $15-million team option (against a $1-million buyout) on Carpenter for 2012. Rather than let that linger until after the season, the Cardinals offered him a two-year, $21-million deal, giving him an extra year in return for the lower annual salary.
Carpenter, a member of the St. Louis organization since 2003, didn't feel compelled to explore his other options even though, despite his advanced age, he'd surely do better on the open market.
"I think part of the emphasis we tried to do, leading into October, was get Carpenter signed back up to that extension, obviously getting [Lance] Berkman done [to an extension]," Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said Monday. "So we tried to knock off a few of the things that were going to be on our list of things to accomplish this offseason."
Carpenter cruised through five innings, allowing only Mitch Moreland's solo homer in the third, and then hit a rough patch in the sixth. Adrian Beltre tied it up with a solo homer and Nelson Cruz and David Murphy followed with singles. A mound visit from pitching coach Dave Duncan preceded Mike Napoli's loud, inning-ending out, a fly ball to the warning track in right-centerfield that was caught by Skip Schumaker. (Napoli wound up doubling home two runs in the eighth to give Texas a 4-2 lead.)
It appeared that the fiery Carpenter yelled an expletive at Napoli after the sixth-inning flyout, and that's Carpenter. He's known to mix it up with batters. He feels like an ace.
On this night, however, neither number one starter emerged as the top card.