Waino earning 200th win can make Cards' season memorable

September 18th, 2023

This story was excerpted from John Denton’s Cardinals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

In St. Louis, where the Cardinals have won a National League-most 11 World Series titles, the most memorable seasons usually involve Clydesdale horses lapping Busch Stadium during the World Series, unlikely October heroes emerging and parades streaming up Market Street in the heart of downtown.

However, there are always a few exceptions. Some 25 years ago, Mark McGwire made fans forget about the Cardinals' 83-79 record with a home run duel for the ages with Sammy Sosa. And just last year, St. Louis was swept out of the playoffs in two games by the underdog Phillies. But that season will always be remembered for the return of Albert Pujols, his ability to summon greatness out of that relatively tiny, two-toned bat once more and steamroll his way to 703 career home runs.

Their NL record-tying streak of 15 straight winning seasons ended this year. St. Louis was heavy favorites to win the NL Central but was the first team eliminated from the division race. Also, Monday was day 132 of a possible 167 that the Cards woke up in last place in their division, and they need a strong finish to avoid finishing there for the first time in 33 years.

Could 42-year-old pitcher  -- one of the most accomplished and beloved players in franchise history -- soften some of the sting by spinning that famous curveball of his enough Monday to notch win No. 200 in his career? Could a historic victory by Wainwright over the rival Brewers at Busch Stadium serve as the lasting memory from 2023? Those closest to the Cardinals right-hander certainly are excited to see him go for history once more.

“I can’t wait,” said manager Oliver Marmol, who admitted that he handled his bullpen in Sunday’s 6-5 victory over the Phillies with Wainwright’s Monday start in mind, knowing he will likely need as many arms available as possible to close out a potential 200th win. “I hope to have a lead [for Wainwright] and be able to close it out.”

Wainwright, who announced that 2023 will be his final season, set the stage for Monday's potentially historic start by finally snapping an 11-start winless streak in Baltimore last Tuesday. Early in the season, when fans wished him well in his pursuit of 200 wins, Wainwright would scoff and think to himself, “'If I only win five games, then it’s a lousy season;’ Surely, I can do better than that,” he recalled recently. As it turned out, many of Wainwright’s struggles this season have mirrored those of the Cardinals.

To teammates of Wainwright, it would mean everything to them to honor his legacy, reigning NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt candidly admitted.

“Every time he takes the mound, as a teammate, you always want to make sure your game is on the same level,” Goldschmidt said. “It was always like that when Yadi [Molina] was catching. You don’t want to do anything to let those guys down. I think that mindset speaks to Waino’s competitiveness. Whether he’s struggled or had bad games, he still finds a way to get another out or go an extra inning. Knowing what kind of teammate he is, how hard he competes and how he prepares, you always want to make sure your game is at that same level as his.

“There’s a lot of ways to lead, but the way he does it might be the most impactful,” Goldschmidt added. “Without saying anything, without even talking, he’s always had a way of raising the game of the people around him.”