Waino tosses a Maddux, has 2 hits vs. Bucs

August 12th, 2021

There was a time not long ago -- in 2018, in fact -- when wasn’t sure that he’d ever throw another pitch. He wasn’t treating his body right, “eating some foods that I used to crush,” he says now. He was in the midst of an absolute rut -- physically, mentally, emotionally and competitively.

Time flies. And time morphs.

Like it did on Wednesday, when Wainwright threw a shutout in a 4-0 win over the Pirates at PNC Park on just 88 pitches and with two hits and an RBI of his own. It was the Georgia native’s 27th career complete game (most among active pitchers) and his third of the season; it was his 11th career shutout (his first since 2016); and it was his first career “Maddux,” named for Braves legend Greg Maddux … with older brother and Cardinals pitching coach Mike Maddux looking on from the dugout.

Wainwright turns 40 on the penultimate day of August.

“My wife still thinks I'm cute. She's watching,” Wainwright said, gesturing to the Zoom camera broadcasting to Bally Sports Midwest. “I got her tricked, so just keep tricking them.”

Wainwright not only tricked Pirates hitters on Wednesday, rapping off as many hits as he conceded, but he flummoxed them a night after J.A. Happ led three relievers to a one-hit shutout. And Wainwright accomplished the following:

• First Maddux by a Cardinal since since close friend Chris Carpenter in September 2011 (97 pitches).

• Second-fewest pitches by a Cards starter in a nine-inning shutout since pitch tracking began in 1988.

• Second-oldest pitcher behind Jamie Moyer to throw a Maddux since 1988.

That last nugget is what will make prideful the young Wainwright, an 18-year-old draftee of the Braves in 2000, a mentee of the Hall of Famer Greg Maddux and a current disciple of Mike Maddux. It was those days as a farmhand when Greg would shed his wisdom that Wainwright would make the two core tenets to his career: 1) You are a pitcher with pitchability, not a thrower; and 2) Your job is to pitch deep into games.

Maddux would invite Wainwright to talk even more, at 6 a.m. with a crossword puzzle in tow on the leg-extension machine in the gym at the Braves’ complexes, but “I thought that was too early in the morning,” Wainwright said. “That's just one of my biggest regrets, ever.”

Still, second-hand lessons have become lessons expertly executed.

“I had lots of clippings of what his mindset was and his mentality and what made him execute pitches on my wall when I was a kid,” Wainwright said.

Wainwright flashed some Maddux-ian command on Wednesday. He’s concocted his nightly goal as having the first digit of his pitch count at most match the number of the inning he’s in. That was accomplished in every frame of the evening -- and then smashed in the final one.

Wainwright threw seven in the seventh (69 pitches to that point), 13 in the eighth (82 pitches) and merely six in the ninth (88 pitches). Seventeen of his 88 pitches were called strikes. He never topped 13 pitches in a frame.

“I knew I had command,” Wainwright said. “I knew I had great command.”

“He put on an absolute display,” said manager Mike Shildt.

So did the defense behind Wainwright, including three consecutive sensational plays from Harrison Bader from the eighth into the ninth inning. Each resulted with the center fielder either flashing grass stains on his road gray jersey or colliding with the outfield fence.

Each required Wainwright to simply raise his arms in praise.

Later, Wainwright said, there’s a dinner in Bader’s future. There, Wainwright will continue to do what he’s done for this club and the young crop that’s followed him, share the maturity and example of reviving his career from the injury-ridden pitfalls of 2015-18 to an ace by necessity in 2021 -- now second in the National League in innings pitched.

“There's just an incredible amount of will, will to succeed, will to prove you wrong, prove to yourself,” Bader said. “There's just a will every day he toes the rubber, and it's something that I have admired every time. … He has nothing really to prove to anybody, but he's still doing it because he loves this game. That's where I want to be.”

“The more players you have like that, the more that culture stays,” Shildt said, “which has been the case here in this organization.”

The pitching display, though, might not have been Wainwright’s favorite feat of the evening. Wainwright, wholly frustrated for how snake-bit he’s been at the plate this year, tallied his first multihit game since July 2019, also against the Pirates, after entering with just one hit in 36 at-bats on the year. His first was a ground-rule double in the fifth; his second was an RBI single in the sixth -- his first RBI since that multihit game against the Bucs -- to give himself breathing room.

“Better tell Shildty that I’ll be ready to go tomorrow,” said Wainwright, a career .372 hitter at PNC Park. “It’s just one of those oddities. … I’ll try to keep the hitting thing going, because that sounds like a trend I need. I pitched so bad here for years, I knew that I had to get some hits to balance it out.”

There’s more: Wainwright became the first pitcher in Cardinals' storied history to throw a Maddux and collect a pair of base hits.

Should that be called a “Wainwright”?

“You said it,” Wainwright smiled, “not me.”