ST. LOUIS -- There had been plenty of time for questions for Adam Wainwright, who, while recovering from yet another elbow injury, spent the past four months pondering his future plans and present fit. Monday night was about beginning to determine some of those answers.Twelve days after his 37th birthday
ST. LOUIS -- There had been plenty of time for questions for Adam Wainwright, who, while recovering from yet another elbow injury, spent the past four months pondering his future plans and present fit. Monday night was about beginning to determine some of those answers.
Twelve days after his 37th birthday and 121 days after throwing his last pitch, Wainwright completed his return on the same night Matt Adams punctuated his own. A pair of players so integral in past postseason success found the spotlight as the Cardinals rallied for an 8-7 win over the Pirates to open a critical seven-game homestand.
"It's cool to be back, man," Wainwright said after his five-inning no-decision. "It's cool to be back."
Adams echoed the same.
That these two players would be focal points in a September win would have been inconceivable even a month ago. Adams was still in a Nationals uniform, while Wainwright was just beginning a rehab process that most expected would lead him back as a reliever.
But Wainwright completed his return in a much more meaningful role, and Adams has generated some offensive momentum since flatlining in August. His three-run blast off Pirates reliever Edgar Santana's hanging slider in the eighth atoned for the team's bullpen blips and provided the Cardinals with their first lead of the night.
Harrison Bader drove home a key insurance run with a sacrifice fly, setting the stage for newly-appointed closer Carlos Martinez to secure the team's seventh straight series-opening win at home.
"Gotta have wins like this, especially in a pennant race," said Adams, who has followed a 3-for-44 skid with three homers in his last 13 at-bats. "It's fun sharing this with the guys in this clubhouse."
The victory added some separation in the National League Wild Card race, where the Cardinals now lead the Dodgers by two games. The Cards also crept to within 3 1/2 games of the Cubs, whose NL Central lead over the Brewers is down to one game.
Adams' blast capped a night that dripped with anticipation before a pitch was thrown. Though Wainwright had rolled through 17 scoreless innings in a month-long rehab assignment, nobody, not even the veteran right-hander, knew how that would translate upon a return to the big leagues.
Before he began his warmup routine amid a standing ovation, Wainwright gathered the trainers and medical personnel who had been so critical in his recovery. He hugged each of them and teetered on the verge of tears.
"It was intense," Wainwright said. "There were a lot of emotions."
He placated some concerns with a routine first inning. Wainwright threw 13 of his first 17 pitches for strikes, worked around a single and touched 92 mph with his fastball.
Then came the stumble. Home runs by Colin Moran and Starling Marte helped the Pirates build a 4-0 lead and initiated activity in the Cardinals' bullpen. But Wainwright, by stranding two runners to close a 26-pitch third inning, kept Mike Shildt from summoning Tyson Ross and rewarded his manager's decision to send him back out in the fourth.
"Part of that was going back out and seeing what we have [in Wainwright]," Shildt said. "He needs a fair opportunity to prove what he has, and I do think he got better as he went. He was still ready to compete, I can tell you that."
As his offense covered for the mistakes, Wainwright closed his night by retiring the final eight batters he faced, even as his fastball velocity dipped. Assuming Wainwright recovers without issue, he's expected to remain in the rotation for another turn.
"Now I have to go out and execute a lot better than I did today," Wainwright said. "It's cool to be back competing. I love being out there. I had such a great time pitching. Now I just have to pitch better."
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Martinez's third save of the season wasn't complete until a 31-second review confirmed that a throw from shortstop DeJong had beaten Francisco Cervelli to first base. With the potential tying run on second, DeJong prevented Cervelli's chopper from getting through the infield. Then, knowing the speed of the runner, he took time to set his feet before throwing across the field. First baseman Matt Carpenter snared the ball on a hop, beating Cervelli by a half-step.
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
In order to set up the late-inning dramatics, the Cardinals first had to get to Pirates starter Trevor Williams. They did so in the fourth, scraping across four runs during a seven-batter span. Such an ambush seemed unlikely given that Williams had allowed four runs in his previous nine starts combined. Run-scoring hits by Marcell Ozuna and Paul DeJong drove home three before Bader tied the game with his first of two sacrifice flies.
"I'm just thankful I'm not pitching against the Cardinals again for the rest of the year," said Williams, who finished 2-2 with a 4.94 ERA in six starts against St. Louis. "It's been an interesting team to pitch against throughout the year, and they're getting hot at the right time. The NL Central's really heating up, and that Wild Card spot is really a fight between a few teams. I wish them nothing but success going into October."
Monday marked the Cardinals' ninth win when trailing after the seventh inning, tied with the Nationals for the most in the NL. That also equals their total from 2017.
HE SAID IT
"He's not coming back for a feel-good. He's coming back to win a game and pitch well." -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, on Wainwright's return
Two of Miles Mikolas' four losses this season have come against the Pirates, who he'll face at 7:15 p.m. CT on Tuesday as the series continues at Busch Stadium. Mikolas did not receive any run support in either of those losses, and he's winless in four total starts against Pittsburgh this year. His opponent, righty Joe Musgrove, is 1-1 in two career starts against St. Louis. The Cards are expected to activate reliever Mike Mayers from the disabled list prior to the game.
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.