MILWAUKEE -- On what would ultimately be the final pitch of his storied 18-year career as a pitcher for the Cardinals, Adam Wainwright knew that he would need to come from high over the top with his ailing right arm to get the tumbling action on a curveball that might preserve a 1-0 lead that eventually became his 200th victory on Sept. 18.
The only problem was that Wainwright had been unable to get his arm in that position for weeks because of the soreness in his right shoulder, and the multiple herniated discs in his back. To get there, Wainwright thought to himself as he stepped off the rubber, while 33,176 fans at Busch Stadium chanted his name, he’d need a pep talk.
“I know it’s going to hurt, but I’ve got to go one more time over the top to get the curveball to have a little more depth to it to get it down under [Brewers slugger Josh Donaldson’s] swing, and I think I can do one more,” Wainwright said prior to the Cardinals' 4-1 win over the Brewers on Tuesday night at American Family Field.
“I stepped off the rubber and in real time, I’m thinking, ‘I can go over the top and throw a curveball one more time.’ If you go back and look at it, I kind of left it up, but I got it as low as I could.”
The pain in Wainwright’s lower back -- it was taped a week ago to keep his ribs from popping back out of place -- and his ailing right shoulder will prevent the 42-year-old from pitching again this weekend at Busch Stadium before he retires and awaits a place in the Cardinals Hall of Fame.
Some six days after twirling a seven-inning, four-hit scoreless masterpiece for his 200th win, Wainwright tried throwing in San Diego to see if he might be able to make one more start. Whenever it was deemed that would not happen, Wainwright had to come to grips that his seventh-inning pitch to Donaldson -- fittingly enough, a curveball -- would be his last pitch as a Major League pitcher.
“I’ve thought a lot about it the last few days and I’m in a really good place mentally,” said Wainwright, who will retire with a career record of 200-128 and a 3.53 ERA. “No regrets about anything I ever did, no second thoughts on pitching or retiring, and I’m at peace with all of it.
“I’ve tried to do all I could -- I literally left everything I had out there.”
Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol made the announcement on Tuesday about Wainwright not pitching again after he and the team waited additional days to see if the hurler’s health might improve enough to allow him to make one more start.
Wainwright, one of 31 players in AL/NL history to homer on his first MLB pitch, is holding out hope for one at bat when the Cardinals host the Reds over the weekend.
Marmol, who added that Wainwright will remain on the active roster, said an at-bat is “a possibility,” but pitching again is not.
“He wouldn’t be able to throw an inning,” Marmol said. “He really wants to, and his hope was to throw one more time at home. But after playing catch, he can’t do it.
“I think everybody is at peace as to how it ended. … Adam got to walk to the clubhouse with fans on their feet, chanting his name, and the entire team was out in the dugout and it was an emotional, special moment. It’s a good way to go out.”
Of the many glorious memories in his career -- striking out Beltrán in Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series; closing out the 2006 World Series win; and twice capturing his 20th victory at Wrigley Field -- Wainwright said he’ll forever savor all that went into his final pitch to help secure the 200th win.
In some ways, it reminded him of years earlier when he struggled through an ugly start in San Diego, and he thought his career was over. Like before, Wainwright persevered through the pain and found a way to keep going.
“It felt kind of like [actor] Kevin Costner in that [“For Love of the Game”] movie, where I’m thinking, ‘I can do this one more time,’” Wainwright said. “In a different way, in 2018, when I thought I was pitching my last game in San Diego, and I was pitching 82 mph and I could hear bones hitting together, I was stepping off every pitch and saying, ‘I can do this one more time.’ I just kept repeating that.
“The other day [in win No. 200] -- and I didn’t realize it in the moment -- but I stepped off, and with full commitment, I said, ‘I can do this one more time.’ I got to say that one more time, five years later, and I think that’s pretty neat.”