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When it matters most, Waino true definition of ace

Leadership on display as Cards ride complete-game effort in Game 5 to NLCS

ST. LOUIS -- One major difference between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Pirates can be summed up in two words: Adam Wainwright.

The Cards have him. The Bucs don't. Game, set and match.

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The National League Division Series between these two clubs was a beauty, closely contested and going the five-game limit. The Cardinals won three games, the Pirates won two. Two of the three games won by St. Louis were won by Wainwright, including the 6-1 victory in Game 5 on Wednesday night.

"Every time we turned around, Wainwright got in the way tonight," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "The at-bats were better, the approach got better, but he kept making pitches. ... I've watched the whole progression of his career. I've watched him close, I've watched him start. He's a pro. He's an absolute pro."

A Most Valuable Player is not officially named for a Division Series, but there isn't much doubt about the identity of the unofficial MVP. Wainwright won the first game of the series and he won the last. For those two starts, Wainwright was 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA. He gave up just 11 hits and one walk while striking out 15. Three infield hits produced one run against Wainwright in the seventh on Wednesday night. Otherwise, he was unreachable by Pirates hands.

If Wainwright looked good to Pittsburgh's manager, think of how he appeared to St. Louis manager Mike Matheny.

Adam the ace
Complete-game victories in a series clincher during the Division Series era (since 1995)
Pitcher Team Opp. Game Date Score
A. Wainwright Stl. Pit. NLDS 5 10/9/2013 6-1, Stl.
C. Sabathia NYY Bal. ALDS 5 10/12/2012 3-1, NYY
J. Verlander Det. Oak. ALDS 5 10/11/2012 6-0, Det.
C. Carpenter Stl. Phi. NLDS 5 10/7/2011 1-0, Stl.
C. Lee Tex. T.B. ALDS 5 10/12/2010 5-1, Tex.
C. Hamels Phi. Cin. NLDS 3 10/10/2010 2-0, Phi.
J. Contreras ChW LAA ALCS 5 10/16/2005 6-3, ChW
J. Beckett Fla. NYY WS 6 10/25/2003 2-0, Fla.
C. Schilling Ari. Stl. NLDS 5 10/14/2001 2-1, Ari.
M. Hampton NYM Stl. NLCS 5 10/16/2000 7-0, NYM
B. Jones NYM S.F. NLDS 4 10/8/2000 4-0, NYM
K. Brown Fla. Atl. NLCS 6 10/14/1997 7-4, Fla.
J. Smoltz Atl. Hou. NLDS 3 10/3/1997 4-1, Atl.

"We'll take him on the mound any day, especially in a big situation," Matheny said. "I love the fact that everybody kept asking him about Game 5 [of the Division Series] last year [when Wainwright gave up six runs], because I knew that was just bringing more to the table, if you could even do that.

"But he's done such a great job leading our pitching staff, and he's had a tough job -- he and Yadier [Molina] both -- with so many young guys. You've got a lot of teaching to do, but you better be able to back it up. He's done an incredible job this year on both sides; teaching and showing the guys by example how you go about your business."

And Wednesday night, Wainwright went the distance. This is the consummate pro at work again.

"In my mind, if you pitch the game, you should be your own closer," Wainwright said.

The Cards, of course, are typically not ones to put an individual ahead of the rest of the pack. Every time this club wins, it is a credit to an entire organization that has evolved into one of baseball's absolute best.

And there has been due credit given to the remarkable group of young pitchers the Cardinals have produced, most notably in this series the one-hit work of Michael Wacha.

But with this series tied at two games apiece Wednesday night, with the choices down to two -- play for the NL pennant in the next series or go away -- the deal was down to Wainwright vs. the young and extremely talented Gerrit Cole.

Contrast Wainwright's position with that of the veteran and nominal leader of the Pittsburgh rotation, A.J. Burnett. Burnett had been roughed up badly in Game 1 of this series, and in fact had a history of being quite hittable in St. Louis. For the biggest game of the season, the Bucs went instead with Cole, who had shut down the Cards in Game 2.

The Cardinals took heart with Wainwright on the mound. First baseman Matt Adams and third baseman David Freese both homered for the Redbirds, but they both gave testimony to the additional confidence they receive with Wainwright on the hill.

"It just boosts our confidence through the roof," Adams said. "He's done it all year. Just went out there and battled his butt off and made tough pitches on a tough team, so we were behind him, 100 percent."

Doing double duty
Pitchers to both win and save a clincher
Pitcher First clinching win First clinching save
A. Wainwright 2013 NLDS Gm 5 2006 NLCS Gm 7
D. Lowe 2004 ALDS Gm 3 2003 ALDS Gm 5
M. Rivera 2003 ALCS Gm 3 1998 WS Gm 4
F. Rodriguez 2002 ALCS Gm 5 2005 ALDS Gm 5
D. Ward 1993 WS Gm 6 1993 ALCS Gm 6
J. Reardon 1992 NLCS Gm 7 1987 ALCS Gm 5
J. Orosco 1986 NLCS Gm 6 1986 WS Gm 7
A. Reynolds 1952 WS Gm 7 1950 WS Gm 4
H. Pennock 1923 WS Gm 6 1932 WS Gm 4

"It's what you'd expect out of Adam, and he expects it out of himself," Freese said. "[He's] just an absolute warrior. We were fortunate to have him on the mound tonight. You want your ace in that position, but he was as sharp as he always is."

Wainwright described the game as "one of the greatest moments of my career, one of the highlights of my baseball life, no doubt."

But listen to the natural humility come to the fore as Wainwright goes through his emotions after the game, starting with hugging his catcher.

"Yadi, I almost didn't want to let go of Yadi," Wainwright said. "I was so happy to be there. I'm so happy he's my catcher. This is why I signed back here. There's no amount of money worth what this city and this team means to me. I'm honored, I'm privileged, I don't deserve any of this."

And that very last part, of course, is where reasonable people will differ. The rest of the Cards will tell you that Wainwright has earned all of this. This is a leader worth following.

In the Cardinals' clubhouse, the honor of saying a few words before the champagne corks were popped went, of course, to Wainwright. He began by saying that he didn't know what to say. But then, he knew exactly what to say: "I love you guys. I trust you. I believe in you. Let's bring this thing home, guys."

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for

St. Louis Cardinals, Adam Wainwright