NEW YORK — On the afternoon Matt Carpenter walked into the Yankees’ clubhouse for the first time, the veteran exchanged a brief greeting with his new manager, professing his readiness to do whatever the team needed — even loading bags on the plane, if need be. Then he was swiftly hustled to a hitters’ meeting, which he attended while still clad in denim jeans.
Having moved from his couch to the team with the Majors’ best record, Carpenter homered the next day, and he hasn’t stopped. Carpenter continued his remarkable and historic resurgence with a two-homer, seven-RBI performance on Saturday evening, receiving an emotional curtain call from a sellout Yankee Stadium crowd in a 14-1 route of the Red Sox.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Carpenter said. “I said it the first day I was here: I’m just so grateful to be in the clubhouse, to be here with this group of guys and come to the ballpark every day. I’m thrilled to be apart of this. To be able to play like I’m playing and the way our team is playing on a nightly basis, this is a lot of fun.”
Carpenter cleared the right-field wall with a three-run homer in the first inning off Nick Pivetta, then launched another three-run shot in the fifth off Darwinzon Hernandez, matching his career high with a seventh RBI after working an eighth-inning walk .
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Carpenter is just the seventh Major Leaguer since 1900 to hit at least 13 homers through his first 30 games with a club, joining Aristides Aquino (2018-19 Reds), Nelson Cruz (2015 Mariners), Cecil Fielder (1990 Tigers), Rhys Hoskins (2017 Phillies), Mark McGwire (1997 Cardinals) and Jim Thome (2006 White Sox).
“Once I saw the way he works, the way he prepares, I knew he was going to do something special with us,” said Aaron Judge, who hit his Major League-leading 32nd and 33rd homers in the win. “From his presence of him to the way he talks to younger guys, the way he just fit in from Day 1, there was no awkward period. He bought into our process, bought into this team.”
Even Carpenter admits that there was no reason to expect anything like this was possible. Only two months ago, Carpenter wondered if his career was over, having requested his release from Triple-A Round Rock in the Rangers’ organization.
Carpenter’s stats in the Pacific Coast League were decent (.991 OPS), but his bus-riding days were exhausted, and Texas general manager Jon Daniels didn’t see him as part of the Rangers’ future. After hitting a combined .176 over the 2020-21 seasons with the Cardinals, there was no guarantee that the phone would ring with another opportunity.
Imagine Carpenter’s surprise, then, when the Yankees called. The Bombers had experienced a few injuries in the sixth week; Carpenter went almost from the airport to the batter’s box on May 26, when a tight hamstring knocked outfielder Aaron Hicks out of the lineup against the Rays.
Carpenter shaped his bushy beard into the WB Mason mustache that has become his New York trademark, then began belting homers.
Most of Carpenter’s first hits as a Yankee left the yard — nine of his first 17, incredibly — evidence that a soul-searching offseason journey to revamp his swing had paid dividends. There were contributions from Joey Votto, Matt Holliday and a baseball performance lab, the crux of which rested upon adding loft and keeping Carpenter’s barrel in the zone longer.
“I think it’s a testament to him, wanting to squeeze everything out of his career,” manager Aaron Boone said. “If he had gone home after last season, he’s done well in this game from a contractual standpoint. There’s something within him that he loves the game and felt like there was more to get out of it, forcing him to ask some questions and work through some things.”
That refurbished swing has done so much damage, and been so ideal for Yankee Stadium, that the Yankees are plugging Carpenter into the outfield — Boone has said they’ll live with whatever the results are, a nice way of saying Carpenter will knock in more runs than he permits.
“I really don’t know where to pitch him right now if I were on the other team,” said Jameson Taillon, who pitched six strong innings to earn his 10th victory. “He’s hitting breaking balls in the zone, he’s handling fastballs and he doesn’t chase a ton, so there’s just not a ton of room for error. You have to dot your fastball up somewhere or down and away, and hope you don’t miss.”
For weeks, Boone had shrugged when asked about finding playing time for Carpenter; it now seems nearly impossible to take him out of the lineup. From his new perch in center field, Judge noticed Carpenter’s reception from a crowd near the right-field “Judge’s Chambers”, joking: “I think the fans are liking him a little more than me. I’m getting a little jealous out there.”
Make no mistake: Carpenter is appreciating every ounce of this, as evidenced by the quiver in his voice during a postgame interview.
“When I was sitting on that couch, I thought, ‘This could be it,’” Carpenter said. “I didn’t know when I was going to get a chance, if I was going to get a chance, to play again. That’s part of why it’s been so much fun to be here, because it’s just like a new lease on life.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism