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Waino bucks two trends with dominant start

Sharp outing vs. Bucs, win in powder blues fulfill 'personal challenges'
@JakeCrouseMLB
September 8, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- In baseball, there are trends that go right for a team, and there are trends they’d rather not have. Behind a dominant effort from Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals were able to improve their fortunes in a couple of aspects while continuing a torrid stretch of pitching to cruise

PITTSBURGH -- In baseball, there are trends that go right for a team, and there are trends they’d rather not have.

Behind a dominant effort from Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals were able to improve their fortunes in a couple of aspects while continuing a torrid stretch of pitching to cruise past the Pirates, 10-1, on Saturday night at PNC Park.

Box score

The Cardinals’ most veteran pitcher stepped up to throw seven innings, allowing just a run in the third. He navigated his way out of trouble in the first, when he allowed three consecutive runners to reach. But baserunners were far from the norm -- Wainwright faced the minimum in four innings, including his six-pitch seventh to cap his outing.

“Especially about the second or third, [he] really just started to attack the zone, trust his stuff and impose his will,” manager Mike Shildt said.

After allowing a combined 11 runs (10 earned) over his final three starts in August, Wainwright has started September by giving up just one run on 10 hits in 14 innings.

As has been said many times before this season, Saturday night was “vintage Waino.”

"He’s a pro,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “He makes pitches. He reads swings. The combination of him and [catcher Yadier] Molina -- that experience, those two combined -- it’s one of the more experienced batteries in baseball and still effective.”

But in order to make another statement, Wainwright had to overcome a pair of struggles, one team-related and one personal.

“Today was about bucking the trend. Personal challenges,” he said. “They say the Cardinals don’t win in the baby blues. They say Waino doesn’t pitch well in Pittsburgh. So perfect. Those were the two thoughts that went into the game today, trying to prove that wrong.”

The trends were clear. Entering Saturday, St. Louis was 1-9 in its powder-blue uniforms. Wainwright said there was even talk of “burning them” and moving on, but he said, “They’re too pretty a uniform to do that, so we’ve got to go out and start winning some games.” And Wainwright’s second-highest career ERA against any divisional opponent is his 4.24 mark vs. Pittsburgh.

By shaking off those struggles, he also extended a great stretch of starting pitching the Cardinals are enjoying as they look to continue to extend their lead en route to a National League Central division title. The team jumped to 3 1/2 games ahead of the Cubs, who lost to the Brewers.

Wainwright went down the list, reflecting on the “good timing” of the starters’ success:

• Jack Flaherty, whose 0.85 second-half ERA is the best in baseball: “Every time he takes the mound, I feel like he’s going to throw a no-hitter. That’s a good feeling.”

• Dakota Hudson, who has four scoreless starts in his past five outings: “He’s been super consistent, just driving the ball downhill better than I’ve ever seen him.”

• Michael Wacha, owner of a 2.78 ERA in his past five starts: “He’s back. He looks great to me.”

And Shildt added that Miles Mikolas -- the only Cardinals starter to post more than one win on the mound last September -- is figuring to be a big contributor as well, noting that he “liked his effort last night quite a bit” and he’s proving he’s “very committed to every pitch.”

Combine that rotation with a bullpen that can back it to the tune of a 3.62 second-half ERA (second best in MLB, entering Saturday), and the reason for the Cardinals’ optimism to end the year is easily understood.

“We kept telling people that we had a team here that we needed to have to make a deep run in the playoffs, to win the World Series,” Wainwright said. “We just want to go out and perform.”

And with their veteran pitching like an ace, the process of fulfilling expectations will only become that much easier.

“It matters to me that I’m out there performing and leading this team, when I’m out there on the mound, to a win,” Wainwright said. “That pumps me up. We’re playing meaningful baseball right now. I’m out there contributing and helping us win those games. That means a lot to me.”

Touching moment
Wainwright also honored Chris Duncan on Saturday during the seventh-inning stretch. During a ceremony for the Stand Up To Cancer initiative, players, coaches and fans held up signs with the names of those close to them who have been affected by cancer. One of the names Wainwright held up was that of Duncan, a former Cardinals teammate who passed away Friday at 38 from glioblastoma.

"You just feel for that family,” Wainwright said. “[He was] such a good person. Chris was such a great teammate and a good friend. ... Everybody that knew Chris was better because of it."

David Eckstein, a Pirates special assistant and former Cardinals 2006 World Series Most Valuable Player Award Winner, also held a sign in honor of Duncan during the moment of silence.

Jake Crouse is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter @JakeCrouseMLB.