'He is second to none': Carp, Wacha praise former teammate Waino

September 25th, 2023

SAN DIEGO -- During the prime of Matt Carpenter’s career -- when he was a three-time National League All-Star and a three-time top-12 finisher in NL MVP voting while playing for the Cardinals -- he was universally known throughout baseball as being one of the game’s most patient and disciplined hitters.

While Carpenter certainly liked to work pitchers and show off a certain level of stubbornness at the plate, he basically is very much willing to jump at the equivalent of the first pitch when the topic turns to the best teammate that he’s been around in 13 MLB seasons.

“I would say, I’ve got to put him at No. 1 as the best teammate I’ve ever had,” Carpenter said of retiring veteran pitcher Adam Wainwright, whose Cardinals lost 12-2 to the Padres on Sunday at Petco Park. “He taught me a ton of things baseball-related, such as how to compete, how to prepare and how to defy the odds, like he's done that countless times. But I think most importantly, the thing that I would want people to know about Adam is just the kind of person that he is and the influence that he's had on me as a father, as a husband and as a teammate. Who he is is second to none.”

Carpenter and Padres teammate Michael Wacha, two key pieces of the Cardinals along with Wainwright for 11 and seven years, respectively, made it a point early in the three-game series to say their goodbyes to Wainwright, who will call it a career this time next Sunday. They also wanted to congratulate Wainwright for the seven-inning gem he threw on Monday to notch his 200th win. That night, the Padres were preparing for a game, but both Wacha and Carpenter mixed the television coverage of the Wainwright win into their pregame work.

“I was so fired up for him,” said Wacha, who went 59-39 in seven seasons with the Cards. “I was pitching that same night and I was in my prep, but I had the TV going. Then, that was the first thing I checked when I got out of the game. I know all he’s been through and all that he’s done for that organization, and I was super proud for him.”

The Cardinals have yet to decide whether Wainwright will pitch again, but if he does, it will come at Busch Stadium, manager Oliver Marmol said. Marmol had hoped to disclose the plan for Wainwright on Sunday, but the health of the pitcher put that declaration on pause. Wainwright recently told MLB.com that he awoke on Monday with crippling back spasms, he had multiple ribs out of place at one point and the team considered a Plan B that night because of a brief belief the hurler might not be able to start. Somehow, Wainwright fired his first scoreless outing since Aug. 18, 2022.

“We’ll get together one more time,” Marmol said recently. “He knows what my thoughts are. He wants to hit, but we’ve had a really good conversation. He told me what he’d like, I told him what I’d like, and we’re going to sleep on it and go from there.”

For years, the 6-foot-6 Wacha was thought to be the St. Louis successor to Wainwright after the Cardinals drafted him with the No. 19 pick of the 2012 MLB Draft. Wacha was given No. 52, a number similar to Wainwright’s familiar No. 50, and he featured a similar pitch arsenal as the Cardinals mainstay. By the time Wacha reached St. Louis, Wainwright already had seven MLB seasons, a World Series win, an NL-most 19 victories in 2009 and a 20-win campaign in 2010 under his belt.

“Waino was the first guy I met, he was the guy I followed around, and I had my eyes on him pretty much the whole time to see how he went about his business on and off the field,” said Wacha, who held the Cards to two runs over seven innings on Sunday. “I still carry a lot of those things with me to this day.”

Aware of the struggles Wainwright had endured -- both with his health and effectiveness -- Carpenter reminded the veteran of all he had accomplished through the years when the Padres were in St. Louis in late August.

“Mentally, it can be tough when you aren’t at your best, but I wanted him to know that nobody in our clubhouse was taking him lightly,” Carpenter recalled. “We still looked at him as Adam Wainwright! I’m hoping that gave him confidence because he had two great starts after that. I wanted to reassure him he’s still a savvy veteran who knows what he’s doing.”