ST. LOUIS -- Adam Wainwright has made his decision. But he has come to it far from alone.
He teased it on Tuesday afternoon, and his gem at Busch Stadium on Wednesday night -- 8 1/3 innings for his 15th win of the season amid a 5-4 Cardinals victory over the Dodgers -- made it clear why.
Wainwright is coming back to pitch in 2022. He has long said it would be a difficult decision, one that he would have to think over with his wife, Jenny, and their five kids. All six of them helped him make that announcement on Tuesday, in a video released by Big League Impact, his non-profit organization.
Wainwright polled each member of his family -- his young son, Caleb, voted in the affirmative with a yell offscreen -- about whether they want him to pitch one more season. All six voted yes, even though Wainwright has promised the family a dog whenever he retires. Negotiations are ongoing as to whether that wish may be fulfilled before the end of 2022.
“They're just ready to have a little pet in the house, and selfish Dad's been playing baseball since the Vietnam War almost,” Wainwright joked. “They haven’t been able to have a dog. I feel bad about it, but I'm having fun.”
Performance-wise, there was little doubt that Wainwright, 40, could pitch another year. Healthier and more robust than he’s felt in years, Wednesday marked his 16th time in 28 starts going at least seven innings, including every start but three since the All-Star break -- a stretch in which the Cardinals are 9-2 when Wainwright starts.
But he needed approval from his family, knowing how much baseball has already taken him away from them, how much he needed to be with them earlier this year, when all six came down with COVID-19, and how much he doesn’t want to miss their futures, with his oldest daughter, Baylie, embarking on her freshman year in high school.
“My daughters, they're just so great,” Wainwright said. “They know I'm having fun.”
It’s easy to have fun with nights like Wednesday, when Wainwright droned up excitement for one more year in a season he has made such nights a norm. In a game he labeled “must-win” in order to have a chance to split the series with Los Angeles and remain alive in the Wild Card chase, Wainwright had a stretch of retiring 22 of 23 Dodgers before the start of the ninth inning, when he ran into trouble and Giovanny Gallegos locked down the save.
Wainwright saw his homerless inning streak snapped at 49 1/3 innings in the sixth and moved himself seven strikeouts shy of 2,000 for his career with four. He owns a 2.17 ERA since the All-Star break as part of a 2.98 mark on the season. That latter tally actually rose on Wednesday, from 2.91, while coming amid a performance plenty of pitchers around the league would salivate for.
Wainwright also owns these marks that fall within the Top 10 of all qualified NL pitchers:
• 15 wins (second)
• 184 1/3 innings pitched (second)
• 2.98 ERA (10th)
• 5.9 percent walk rate (ninth)
• 1.03 WHIP (eighth)
• 0.88 home runs-per-nine-innings (eighth)
• 3.8 fWAR (seventh)
"The best leadership is by modeling, and Adam Wainwright has shown our entire pitching staff and our team how to compete,” said manager Mike Shildt.
Wainwright almost helped his own cause on Wednesday, coming just feet short of his first home run since 2017 with a 401-foot flyout in the eighth inning. But where he came just short, Yadier Molina, of course, came through, with a two-run homer in the first inning and scoring once again in the fourth in their 301st start together as batterymates.
“At 39 [years old], that still goes out I think,” Wainwright laughed. “At 40, warning-track power."
Unlike Molina, Wainwright will be a free agent in 2022. That is, unless the Cardinals elect to do what they did with their backstop and re-sign his batterymate to a deal before the close of the season. Or a deal could come in the offseason, a year removed from Wainwright entertaining offers elsewhere but ultimately electing to return to St. Louis.
(For good measure, Albert Pujols, who Wainwright faced for the third game in his career, is also a free agent at the end of 2021.)
It seems hard to envision Wainwright playing elsewhere now, with one more go-around with Molina possible, and with it, a likely ascension to the most starts of any battery in AL/NL history.
Regardless, Wainwright is only returning in 2022 because that’s what his six teammates at home wanted for him (his 25 at Busch Stadium were never shy in their desire for an encore). The dog will come eventually -- perhaps sooner than planned given his kids’ persuasion skills. And Wainwright hopes he can bring Caleb to meet the team in the clubhouse should the pandemic and COVID restrictions start to fade.
He hopes to give both his nuclear family and potentially his Cardinals family one more year of vintage Uncle Charlie.