Waino pads standout résumé with 2,000th K

September 24th, 2021

MILWAUKEE -- and Brewers third baseman Luis Urías were stuck in a furious battle in the fourth inning on Thursday afternoon.

After the count reached 2-2, neither Wainwright nor Urías would give in. Wainwright refused to throw ball three, and Urías made sure to get a piece of the next three pitches. But finally, on a curveball that finished down and away, Wainwright got Urías to swing through for strike three.

Players and coaches from both teams began to clap, and the crowd at American Family Field gave Wainwright a rousing ovation. And no, it wasn’t because he’d just picked up his first punchout of the game.

With that swing and miss -- the only “K” he recorded in St. Louis’ 8-5 win over Milwaukee -- Wainwright became the 85th pitcher in AL/NL history to reach 2,000 career strikeouts and only the second Cardinals pitcher to ever accomplish the feat (Bob Gibson reached No. 2,000 in 1969).

“That's a lot of punchouts. It's an impressive number,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “It speaks to a lot of things. Obviously, duration. You gotta have a strikeout pitch or pitches, and he's got them. He's got the signature curveball, but he's got other weapons as well.

“It's a tremendous accomplishment, and hats off to Adam for another tremendous milestone he's reached in his career.”

“It doesn't surprise me at all. It's the kind of guy he is,” said Matt Carpenter, the third-longest tenured St. Louis player behind Wainwright (debuted in ‘05) and Yadier Molina (debuted in ‘04). “His work ethic, his character and, most importantly, his competitiveness. He takes the ball every day with the expectation to not just win, but to go out and dominate, and he's having that year. Barring any kind of health setback, the guy we're seeing this year is the guy he's been pretty much his whole career.”

It seems fitting that as the Cardinals have erupted for a 12-game winning streak in September that’s given them a hold on the second National League Wild Card spot, it’s been Wainwright’s renaissance that’s helped lead the way. Wainwright currently has more strikeouts in 2021 than he’s had in any season since 2014 -- though he’ll have a shot to pass that mark by the end of the season -- and with four innings pitched on Thursday, he’s now tossed at least 200 for the first time since that same ‘14 season.

“It is a cool number to be able to say you pitched 200 innings,” Wainwright said. “That means you carried your team deep into the game a lot of times and gave your team and yourself a chance to win, and that's really what starting pitching is all about, isn't it?”

“He's a guy with the mentality of going to pitch,” Shildt said. “He takes the ball, and he doesn't wanna give it back anytime soon when the game starts.”

As the Cardinals’ 2021 season got underway, Jack Flaherty looked like the one putting together a Cy Young-caliber season until separate stints on the injured list forced him off the field. That brought Wainwright back to the forefront of the rotation, and the 40-year-old righty has since put together a season that makes it look like he’s hit the fountain of youth.

He had a slow April and May (3-4, 4.22 ERA), but that gave way to a more fruitful June and July (5-2, 2.86 ERA). What followed was a turn-back-the-clock kind of August for Wainwright, as he went 5-1, posted a 1.43 ERA, was 6-for-6 in tossing quality starts and struck out 36 opponents in 44 innings as he earned NL Pitcher of the Month honors.

Not much has changed in September. Coming into Thursday, Wainwright was 3-0 with a 2.89 ERA in his first four starts of the month. A two-punchout performance on Saturday meant he wasn’t able to reach No. 2,000 at Busch Stadium in front of his 2011 World Series teammates, but on Thursday, Wainwright finally reached a milestone 16 years in the making.