With win No. 199, Waino takes 'big step' toward elusive milestone

September 13th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- Eighteen years ago Monday, a 24-year-old Adam Wainwright made his Major League debut for the Cardinals, coming out of the bullpen to finish an innocuous late-season game against the Mets that would mark the beginning of a generational career. So it was with anniversaries, as well as milestones, on the mind that the 42-year-old Wainwright took the mound Tuesday night at Oriole Park, having finally arrived at what he knows is the final leg and determined to finish it on a graceful note.

With that as a backdrop, Wainwright willed himself to the doorstep of 200 career wins by beguiling the first-place Orioles, earning career victory No. 199 while leading St. Louis to a 5-2 win over Baltimore. Wainwright held the O’s to two runs over five innings, and the Cardinals’ bullpen held the line to help the right-hander snap a career-worst 10-game losing skid with a gutsy performance in his final Interleague start.

"Today was a big step to getting [to 200],” Wainwright said. “Not much time left. I knew today would be a really important win if I could get it, and luckily we did.”

Backed by a homer from Paul Goldschmidt and two from Richie Palacios, Wainwright scattered seven hits, walked three and struck out three, capping his night by fanning Adam Frazier to strand the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position to end the fifth. Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol then deployed his bullpen aggressively, turning to left-hander Matthew Liberatore for four big outs in the middle innings before Ryan Helsley worked a clean ninth for his ninth save of the season.

“Tonight was the best I’ve seen him [pitch] this season,” catcher Willson Contreras said.

The result was Wainwright’s first victory since June 17, halting a nightmare 11-start stretch that saw him go 0-10 with a 10.72 ERA and had a souring effect on the righty’s victory-lap final season. Wainwright completed at least five innings in only five of those outings.

As he passed the 90-pitch mark in the fifth inning on Tuesday, the stakes rose palpably as it became clear Wainwright would get only a few more pitches to control his own destiny. In the end, he rose to the moment once more, uncorking a vintage Wainwright curveball that Frazier swung over for strike three. A visibly amped Wainwright pumped both fists as he walked off the field in line for at least one more win.

“I definitely need to start pitching deeper into games, because watching the game is so much more nerve-wracking,” Wainwright said. “I’m going to run out of finger nails if I keep pitching five innings.” 

Said Marmol: “The emotion [he showed] afterwards, I loved every second of it.”

During Wainwright’s 410th career start, he passed Bob Forsch for third in Cardinals history in innings pitched, finishing the night with 2,661 1/3 frames over 477 appearances. Wainwright remains one of 13 pitchers in MLB history to make at least 400 starts while spending his career with one organization, and the Orioles mark the 27th team he’s beaten in his illustrious career. It will end that way, since the Cards don’t play the Yankees or Rangers -- the only clubs besides St. Louis that Wainwright has never beaten -- before the end of 2023.

What Wainwright should get is at least three cracks at win No. 200 -- a big round number both the Cardinals and Wainwright want to cement his legacy.

“It’s really important for all of us,” Contreras said. “We put pressure on ourselves because we want him to get to 200 wins. … Hopefully, he can get to 200. That would make us proud as teammates.”

Said Marmol: “Obviously, we want him to finish well from a performance standpoint, but also for him to find joy in being out here competing. That’s hard to do if things aren’t going your way.

"When you’ve pitched for as long as Waino’s pitched, and you look at guys with similar careers, sometimes they don’t finish well. That’s just part of it. But being able to find joy in showing up to the park and competing and giving it your best shot is still something to be proud of. My hope is that he finds a way to do that.”