- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 13, 2011

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Chris Carpenter never wanted to leave St. Louis. The Cardinals never wanted to see the former Cy Young Award winner go.

Still, there were moments this season, as the months passed and his club option for 2012 loomed, when the veteran right-hander wondered if he was a part of the team’s future.

“As the year went on it was definitely a concern,” Carpenter said.

Not anymore.

Carpenter signed a $21 million, two-year contract with the Cardinals on Tuesday that will keep him around until at least 2013.

“We believe with him and Adam Wainwright we do have that 1-2 punch that we were so hopeful for this year and are glad it can be something we look forward to for 2012 and ‘13,” general manager John Mozeliak said.

The 36-year-old Carpenter said he feels “great” as he nears the end of an uneven season for both himself and the team. He entered Tuesday night’s start against Pittsburgh at 9-9 with a 3.75 ERA as the Cardinals try to stay in the playoff picture.

St. Louis began the day 4 1/2 games behind Atlanta in the wild-card race and 6 1/2 games in back of Milwaukee in the NL Central and

“There’s all kinds of things that happened this year that kind of shuffled things around,” Carpenter said. “I like the way the team continued to play and continues to compete (but) we could never get on that roll.”

Time is running out to make something happen this year, though Carpenter remains optimistic about the future. Wainwright, who missed the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, will be back next spring and Carpenter is doing his part to make sure the team has money to retain core players.

The new contract frees up some money next year, giving the team some wiggle room as it tries to re-sign first baseman Albert Pujols. Mozeliak said negotiations between the club and its superstar have not resumed but believes Carpenter’s signing is the first step in the process of keeping Pujols.

“Clearly getting Chris Carpenter done puts an exclamation point on our rotation for 2012 and we can start setting our sights on other objectives,” Mozeliak said.

Carpenter didn’t rule out playing beyond 2013 but stressed it’s important for him to remain with St. Louis. The three-time All-Star is 93-42 in his nine seasons with the club and is fourth on the team’s all-time strikeout list.

It’s heady company for a player who has struggled to stay off the disabled list since winning the 2005 NL Cy Young Award.

He missed most of the 2007 and 2008 seasons with a series of arm injuries. He had bone spurs removed from his pitching elbow in May 2007 and had reconstructive elbow surgery that July, sidelining him until July 2008. A nerve in his right elbow was transposed in December 2008.

Carpenter rebounded with a sterling 2009 in which he went 17-4 and posted an NL-leading 2.24 ERA. He went 16-9 last season but hasn’t been quite as sharp this summer, though he’s coming off an impressive four-hit shutout win over Milwaukee that manager Tony La Russa called one of the best performances he’s seen all season.

While allowing every season is different, Carpenter is confident he can be effective well into the future.

“I believe I can be better than I was this year, try and be more consistent,” he said. “If I’m healthy, I’m going to be fine.”

Carpenter is 142-92 with a 3.79 ERA in 14 seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays and the Cardinals.

Closer to the end of his career than the beginning, Carpenter is well aware of the company he’s keeping.

“The whole time I’ve been here, there have been a lot of referrals to ‘the last guy to do this is Bob Gibson,’” Carpenter said. “I’m not Bob Gibson but … (hopefully) when my career is over, people look back and say even though (I wasn’t) Bob Gibson, Chris Carpenter was a big part of this tradition.”

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