AP Sports Writer
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Falling one hit shy of 200 didn't dampen the excitement of Matt Carpenter's breakout season.
The St. Louis Cardinals leadoff man isn't that big on statistics, and he didn't even notice he was within range until the last few days.
There have been so many other accomplishments for a player who's become a star so fast he's emerging as a leader and yet not above getting the rookie treatment.
"It's a dream-come-true type of season," teammate Carlos Beltran said Tuesday after the Cardinals practiced at Busch Stadium. "I make fun of him a lot in the clubhouse, I give him a hard time, but he knows I'm so happy for him."
The 27-year-old Carpenter came to spring training needing to learn a new position so he'd fit in the lineup. He enters the postseason as perhaps the best leadoff man in the game, a second baseman who'll never hurt you on defense and an MVP candidate.
None of this, manager Mike Matheny said, "was out of the realm of possibility." Best-case scenario, it all happened.
"He's had a great year," Matheny said. "He's been tremendously fun to watch."
Carpenter surprised himself, but just a bit. Envisioning what he's done this season back in March "probably would have been a stretch for some people," but he was confident he could contribute.
"I didn't know what that meant, having never done that before, and I didn't know what I was capable of," Carpenter said. "Yeah, I mean, it was an exciting year for me and I'm looking forward to doing that in the postseason."
Carpenter was a full-time starter for the first time, then a first-time All-star, and never let up.
He led the majors in hits, runs, doubles and multi-hit games. He had 55 doubles, breaking Stan Musial's franchise record of 53 by a left-handed hitter.
Took Beltran's joshing with a smile, too.
"It's all in good fun," Carpenter said. "He's a great teammate."
Everybody got a good look at him, bumped him up on the scouting report and still couldn't keep him off the bases.
"You always wonder about a guy the league sees on a consistent basis and I said the same thing about Allen Craig," Matheny said. "All that tends to give an advantage to the team they're facing.
"Nobody knew exactly how that was all going to play out, but it was pretty impressive."
Carpenter batted .318 with a .392 on-base percentage and led leadoff men with 78 RBIs. He's not a threat to steal, just three in six attempts this year, but he's a smart runner and he's patient at the plate with more walks (98) than strikeouts (72), and hits lefties almost as well as righties.
The secret is out on this guy and nobody's found a solution. It could be a key to a long October run for the Cardinals, who finished the season on a six-game winning streak and led the National League with 97 wins.
They open the division series at home on Thursday with Adam Wainwright facing the wild-card winner.
"I think we can be really good," Carpenter said. "We've got it all lined up."
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