In possible final start at Busch, Waino dazzles

With St. Louis facing elimination, this may have been his farewell

October 7th, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- Catharsis finally came to in the home dugout, seven-and-a-half innings into Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Braves on Sunday. By that point, he’d provided an afternoon’s worth of tension, nostalgia and triumph for the 46,701 assembled at Busch Stadium, used 120 pitches to outduel a pitcher 16 years his junior and dragged the Cardinals toward what would’ve been a vintage October win.

Cradling a one-run lead in the eighth, Wainwright’s final pitch of the day walked to load the bases, pushing the tying run to third and manager Mike Shildt from the dugout step. Soon all Wainwright could do was watch.

What he saw was conjure a harmless fly from Freddie Freeman, escape the jam and bring the Cardinals to the cusp of the National League Championship Series. So Wainwright screamed. He screamed “uncontrollably.” He roared along with the sellout crowd that’d waited four years for another playoff chance to do so.

“I was loving every minute of that game,” Wainwright would say later. “It was one of the most fun games I’ve ever pitched.”

That his emotions would be flipped so supremely and so soon, Wainwright said, “is exactly what playoff baseball is all about.” Minutes later, Wainwright watched from the trainer’s room as the Braves rallied to hand the Cardinals a sudden, stunning, series-altering 3-1 defeat.

, coming in for the ninth, coughed up three runs in his first career postseason save opportunity. It took doubles by and and one questionable Shildt decision to nullify one of the best playoff outings of Wainwright’s decorated career, and a two-out, two-run single to negate it, and send St. Louis into Monday’s Game 4 facing elimination.

“There is disappointment, absolutely,” Shildt said. “Because you get invested for eight and two-things and go out and lay it out there and you get a great pitching performance from Waino. And Miller comes in and gets the big out on Freeman. You go out and you’re an out away.”

Said Wainwright: “We were one out away.”

That they were at the doorstep despite an offense that spent a second straight playoff game in a slumber was mainly because Wainwright turned in one of the best postseason performances of his superb career. Making a franchise-record 25th playoff appearance and his first postseason start in four years, Wainwright outdueled over 7 2/3 shutout innings. He carved more than three times through Atlanta’s high-voltage lineup, striking out eight.

He retired 17 of 19 at one point, walking just two -- both in the eighth. He didn’t allow a runner to reach third base until his second free pass. He threw 47.5 percent curveballs, his most in any outing (min: 50 pitches) since pitch tracking began in 2008.

“That’s vintage Adam right there, just going out and leaving it all out there,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We just couldn’t get anything going. He just made pitch after pitch after pitch. And he never gives in. That’s the thing. He never gives in.”

Simply put, the 38-year-old Wainwright dazzled on the postseason stage in ways few his age have ever done. Not since Curt Schilling in Game 3 of the 2007 ALDS had a pitcher at least that age registered a scoreless postseason start. Woody Williams, who was 37 days older during Game 5 of the 2004 NLCS, is the only older pitcher to give St. Louis at least seven shutout October innings in franchise history. Wainwright also joined Kenny Rogers, Randy Johnson and Rogers Clemens as the only pitchers 38 or older to throw at least 7 2/3 shutout frames with eight strikeouts in the postseason.

“That’s about as good as it gets from him,” said. “He gave us a really good chance to do it.”

For Wainwright, the performance stands out even on what was already one of the more crowded October resumes in modern baseball history, certainly among active pitchers. In 12 prior postseason starts, he’d never pitched at least seven innings without allowing a run. He’d only gone longer twice, and not since his complete-game victory over the Pirates in Game 5 of the 2013 NLDS. He shaved his career postseason ERA to 2.79 in 96 2/3 innings; In NLDS play, it’s 2.89.

Whether more chances will come to pad that resume remains an open question. Wainwright has not publicly declared his plans for 2020, but his future is uncertain. He is unsigned past these playoffs, despite his resurgent 2019. He was asked repeatedly this week about the possibility that Sunday might mark his final game at Busch Stadium; with the Cardinals now facing elimination, the probability of that happening rose. But afterwards, Wainwright seemed confident it would not be.

“The crowd made me feel pretty good walking off the mound today. They poured their heart out for me today and I poured my heart out for them today,” Wainwright said. “I never felt for one second that today was going to be my last day … Either we got more games to win or I’ve got more games to pitch.”