'It's textbook': Waino vintage in finale win

August 22nd, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- Ten pitches were required of for his last two outs of the eighth inning, bumping his total on the day to 106 and his strikeout total to nine. He had flummoxed the Pirates for each of them, scoreless to that point, and twirled his 23rd frame against them this year. Only one run had scored.

Upon his return to the dugout, manager Mike Shildt met Wainwright at the bottom of the steps, hand outstretched. Wainwright wanted another inning, trying to lock up his second straight shutout of Pittsburgh. Shildt wanted to wish him a job well done.

“You've got to shake my hand. It's on camera,” Shildt said to him. “You can't show me up. Don't leave me hanging.”

Wainwright obliged, but not without a couple of jumping jacks after just to show he was still fresh, 16 years, 418 games and 2,332 innings into his career. His eight scoreless frames in the 3-0 win on Sunday afternoon over the Pirates were enough, on the same day the Cardinals honored Bob Gibson’s life at Busch Stadium. Wainwright didn’t need to prove anything to anyone. Just himself.

"Wainwright is our [club’s] modern day Gibson,” Shildt said, “which is saying something.”

Wainwright will scoff at such comparisons to the greatest pitcher in franchise history. He’s merely tried to emulate Gibson and his bulldog attitude that he carried into each start. Six of them this season have been required to plug losing streaks. In each six, skids have ended.

But there is one way in which Wainwright will welcome comparisons. The one goal he said he’s willing to publicly entertain (as to not jinx himself) is his desire to lead the league in innings pitched. After Sunday’s performance, he’s at 162 2/3 innings, just six innings behind MLB leader Zack Wheeler.

If Wainwright knocks the Phillies' ace aside, he’d be just the fourth pitcher in AL/NL history his respective league in innings pitched at 39 years of age or older.

“He expected to dominate, Mr. Gibson. Waino expects to go out and dominate,” Shildt said. “Waino expects to go nine. Waino expects to go deep in a game. Waino expects to make pitches when he needs to. Waino expects to get it done.

“And it's great to expect all those things, but people can say anything they want. … He creates a high standard, which is a great start, but then he does all the work that leads up to being able to satisfy those standards.”

It’s one thing to eat innings. It’s a whole other thing to pitch them with the quality that Wainwright has at his age.

Wainwright has pitched 23 innings against Pittsburgh this season, allowing just one run and 11 baserunners. He has pitched to a 3.10 ERA in his 17th season. On Sunday, he struck out nine, walked none and threw 106 pitches (71 strikes).

It was vintage Wainwright, though it was also contemporary Wainwright. He was two starts removed from his first career “Maddux” -- just 11 days ago against Pittsburgh. In his six starts facing the barrel of a losing streak, Wainwright has pitched to a 1.67 ERA.

In eight days, Wainwright will turn 40. And he lines up to face the Pirates one more time next weekend.

“It’s textbook,” said first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, whose solo homer buoyed Wainwright with some cushion in the fifth inning. “That’s how you teach kids to pitch and how to play, and he just lives it out daily. Hopefully, everyone's watching.”

Though current history against Pittsburgh has been kind to Wainwright, enduring history has not. He carried with him a near-4.00 ERA into Sunday’s start against the Pirates even after his two dominant starts against them this season.

Wainwright has still, to Gibson’s legacy, been able to grind out wins against a team that gives him fits. His win on Sunday was the 20th of his career against Pittsburgh, the first team he’s hit a mark against.

“They beat me around pretty good early on in my career, so this is all just payback for them getting my career ERA over about a point higher than it should be,” Wainwright said.