Surprise! Waino tabbed for Wild Card start

September 30th, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals have relied on at every turn this season, from a stopgap on losing streaks to lining him up for their landmark games to even, by pure chance, having him pitch on various holidays.

So it should be no surprise what manager Mike Shildt revealed on Thursday morning.

Wainwright, St. Louis’ “bulldog,” ace and elder statesman, will get the ball to start the National League Wild Card Game on Wednesday, location and opponent to be determined.

“Is it shocking?” Shildt asked with a laugh.

The move was long expected, especially after St. Louis on Tuesday clinched its spot in the one-game playoff to eradicate the need for Wainwright to pitch it into the playoffs. He had been lined up to start Sunday's regular-season finale, but will now start that game.

Wainwright will be just the second player and third pitcher aged 40 years or older to start a winner-take-all postseason game. He joins Roger Clemens, who did it twice (in the 2003 AL Championship Series and the ’04 NLCS). In Cards postseason history, Wainwright joins Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland “Old Pete” Alexander as the lone starters of 40-plus years of age.

Age has been no source of sluggishness this season for Wainwright, who's pitched to a 3.05 ERA and a 17-7 record, numbers that can only be one-upped by the demeanor and leadership he has dispersed into his clubhouse.

Wainwright is awaiting word on which opponent he has to prepare for, with the Dodgers or Giants battling it out for the NL West crown. The runner-up will both host and face the Cardinals’ ace in the Wild Card Game.

Either way, Wainwright will have to improve on some historic and recent trends against each opponent. He went 2-1 but allowed 11 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings (three starts) against the two clubs this season, pitching twice at home and once at Oracle Park.

Wainwright owns a 1-3 career record and 4.30 ERA across seven games (six starts) at Dodger Stadium. In nine games (eight starts) in San Francisco, those numbers improve to a 4-5 mark with a 3.70 ERA.

But Wainwright has proven past and recent history don’t necessarily dictate present results. And with winner-take-alls and World Series clinchers in his back pocket, there’s no one the Cardinals trust more.

Despite skipping Wainwright's start, Shildt didn’t commit that Wainwright is done pitching in the regular season, with the chance to perhaps throw once in relief this weekend to get some last-minute game touches. The other option is some aggressive bullpen sessions to make up for the lack of competition.

In any event, St. Louis has been wary of giving too much rest to Wainwright, a creature of habit who has been put on a five-day schedule down the stretch. He has made only 50 of his 358 career starts on six or more days of rest, and should he not pitch again until the Wild Card Game, he would be riding eight days absent of game action.

But with two off-days leading into the playoff, the Cardinals will prepare to have the kitchen sink available for either opponent.

“We’ll have all hands on deck,” Shildt said. “As far as the rest of this, I mean, we got Adam Wainwright going. He gets better as the game goes, goes deep in games, is a big-game pitcher. It's not like we're going to get him out of the game in the fourth. It'll be dictated on a lot of variables, but we'll have all our pieces ready to go.”