Yesterday morning, I sat wrong in my office chair and for the rest of the day my back bothered me. It twinged if I stepped wrong, it made it hard to sit comfortably, it was generally a less than pleasant experience.
Last night, Adam Wainwright threw a complete game in less than 90 pitches.
It was against the Pirates, so the degree of difficulty was a little less than it would be against other teams, but it’s still a remarkable accomplishment. Pitchers face the Pirates every day. They aren’t throwing a Maddux at them regularly.
Wainwright is days short of 40 (which does put him a few years behind me, though that’s not quite the difference in our experiences) but you couldn’t tell it. The man has revitalized himself over the last couple of years to be, if not what he was when he was an ace, at least the best he could be when he got past his prime. It’s a remarkable thing to see since, three years ago, it looked like the toaster had popped and he was done.
On May 13, 2018, Wainwright took the mound in San Diego and it was a painful thing to watch. While he only gave up a couple of runs in his 2.1 innings, he walked six and had to be bailed out by his bullpen. It was the second time in four starts that he hadn’t gotten through four innings and even he’s admitted in the past he wasn’t sure he’d ever return from the injured list, where he went after that game.
When he went on the injured list, it allowed that elbow to heal up. Since that time, he’s 31-20 with a 3.72 ERA in 408.1 innings and he’s done that in part by allowing an average exit velocity of 88.4 mph. He’s not giving up hard contact because he knows how to pitch. The stereotype of the crafty veteran who uses his wiles rather than his stuff to win ballgames might be a bit overblown, especially in today’s game, but Wainwright fits it to a T. Age takes on one side (velocity) but gives on another (experience).
Going into this year, there were some concerns over whether 2020 was a bit of a fluke, a factor of the weirdness of the season and the shortened number of games. Even if you thought it wasn’t, you expected Wainwright to be a bit scattershot, probably more good starts than bad starts but there would be nights where he just didn’t have the feel of the curveball or couldn’t put his pitches where he wanted to and would get lit up. It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses for Waino, but those ugly games have been few and far between. He’s given up more than four runs only three times this year and none since May 15. He’s only given up four runs three other times and has a 2.51 ERA in the second half, a number that would be lower if he didn’t give up four to the Giants in his first start after the break.
He’s not doing it by going five and turning it over to the bullpen, either. Last night’s complete game was the fifth straight game he’s gone at least seven innings. Without looking it up, I’d completely believe that the rest of the Cardinals starters this year probably haven’t combined for five games of that nature. It was his 13th game of seven or more innings this year (out of 23 starts) and his second complete game of the season. It’s not vintage Wainwright, but it’s awfully darn close.
Now that he’s got his pitching routine mastered, it appears that he’s working on his hitting. We know about the big 10 pitch at bat in his last start, but Wainwright got two hits of his own last night in Pittsburgh, driving in the final run of the game with one. Which, fittingly, was just as many hits as he gave up.
The Cardinals have a policy of not retiring numbers unless a player is enshrined in Cooperstown. The only exception, Ken Boyer, was retired well before this ownership group. With the injuries that he’s had in his career, Wainwright’s not going to get to the Baseball Hall of Fame, probably. He’ll get some votes, maybe get a shot with one of the veteran committees way down the line, but missing all of 2011 and most of 2015 and 2018 is going to probably hold him back from that achievement. However, if there was ever a reason to make another exception to that policy, it’s Wainwright. He’s the quintessential Cardinal. He represents an era of great Cardinal baseball. Whenever he’s done, whether it’s this year or next, put that 50 on the wall because it’s hard to imagine anyone could live up to the standard Wainwright has set for that number.
Tuesday (4-1 win)
Hero: Dylan Carlson. Three hits in his four at bats. If either of the big bats behind him had been hitting, there’d been a lot more damage done.
Goat: Paul Goldschmidt. 0-4 with two strikeouts and three left on, plus he made his second error in as many games. Of course, it was also only his second error of the season.
Notes: I noted before the game that Tommy Edman hadn’t had a hit in the leadoff spot since early June and was 0-16 in that span (only four starts as they’d started to shift him down in the lineup). Of course, he led off with a home run. That said, it was his only hit and my reservations about leading him off, even when it’s against lefties, is still there. But that was a nice way to break a streak….Paul DeJong also homered. It was also his only hit–the Cardinals were relatively quiet against Pittsburgh hurlers overall–but it was his first homer in a couple of weeks and it’s possible his bat is stirring a bit again….J.A. Happ threw another good game, allowing just one hit, a home run by Hoy Park, over his six innings…..the bullpen did him one better, allowing no hits and just one walk (by Ryan Helsley) in three innings for a combined one-hitter….Alex Reyes threw seven pitches, five strikes, for the save. Not sure the last time we could say that….Edmundo Sosa was two for four including a triple, though the team was unable to bring him in from third.
Wednesday (4-0 win)
Hero: Adam Wainwright. Duh.
Goat: Harrison Bader. You could say Tyler O’Neill, since he went 0-4 with two strikeouts, but given that he still probably is feeling the effects of his COVID shot, we’ll give him a pass. Bader also went 0-4, though he only struck out once. That run he had might be over–he’s hitting .152 in August with no extra base hits. His defense is still stellar, though, preserving Wainwright’s attempt at a Maddux with two remarkably good catches in the ninth.
Notes: Nolan Arenado grounded into two double plays, including one in the ninth that short-circuited a chance at a little more cushion for Waino….Paul DeJong went 2-4 and had a two-run double that broke the game open. It also pulled DeJong back over .200 again….Tommy Edman went from hitting first to hitting eighth. He also went 0-3 with an intentional walk. Getting the team to where Edman can be the sub and not a regular starter should be a priority this winter….speaking of folks that aren’t aging like they should, Yadier Molina had two hits and drove in the first run of the game. He’s not a force (and still shouldn’t be hitting fifth) but he still contributes, especially with runners in scoring position.