The St. Louis Cardinals are back in the middle of yet another playoff chase, and their 40-year-old starting pitcher is a key reason why.
Adam Wainwright turned in yet another gem on Monday night, throwing six innings of shutout ball with four strikeouts while allowing just four hits against the New York Mets in a game the Cardinals went on to win 7-0. The win brought the Cardinals within 1/2 a game of the second wild-card spot in the National League after a stretch this season in which the Cardinals were playing below .500.
“All of these games are just so important,” Wainwright told reporters after game. “It feels like a playoff game. We’ve got to win all of them, I think. We have to have that intent to go out and win all of these games. We can’t have any slip-ups the rest of the way. We’ve got to go out and play really good baseball down the stretch against a lot of very good teams, a lot of teams that are in the hunt or are already in the playoffs that we’re going to face. So, we’ve got to bring our best every night, no doubt about it, just like a playoff series.”
It was the latest clutch performance from the veteran Wainwright, a follower of Jesus who turned 40 on August 30 and is putting together one of the best seasons of his career. Twenty of his 29 starts this season have been quality starts, which is good for fourth in all of baseball. He’s averaging 6.56 innings per start with a 2.88 ERA while sporting a 16-7 record; his 16 wins trail only the 17 for Julio Urias of the Dodgers. Wainwright has also won eight of his last nine starts.
He’s second in the major leagues in innings pitched (190.1), thanks in part to his three complete games, including one that was a shutout. His three complete games are tied for first in all of baseball, and are the most he’s tallied in a season since he finished with a career-high five in his 2014 All-Star season. There’s a real chance he receives votes for the Cy Young Award this season, something he hasn’t done since 2014.
With ace Jack Flaherty sidelined with an injury for the majority of the season, Wainwright has assumed the ace role for a team desperately needing the production. Wainwright missed time earlier this season as well, when he went on the COVID-19 injured list to take care of his wife and children, all of whom were battling the virus. But when he’s been on the field, he’s been exactly what the Cardinals have needed.
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) September 13, 2021
Wainwright dialed up the nostalgia on Monday night, striking out Mets outfielder Jeff McNeil to strand the bases loaded. It brought up shades of one of Wainwright’s most indelible moments — the strikeout of Carlos Beltran with his signature curveball on a 3-2 count to seal the win in Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series and send the Cardinals to the World Series when he was just a rookie.
“I like nostalgia, and I felt like all the Mets fans in a bases-loaded situation, I felt like they wanted to see me throw two curveballs and a changeup and, you know, get him out,” Wainwright told reporters while wearing a smile. “I just felt like that was what the Mets fans wanted to see, and so I gave the people what they wanted.”
A smiling Waino says some nostalgia helped him out of an early jam: "I felt like all the Mets fans wanted to see me in that bases-loaded situation. I felt like they wanted to see me throw two curveballs and a changeup and get him out. … I gave the people what they wanted." pic.twitter.com/RwsVj5ecss
— Bally Sports Midwest (@BallySportsMW) September 14, 2021
Wainwright squared off against Rich Hill on Monday night, which marked the first time two pitchers age 40 and over faced each other since Bartolo Colon of the Mets faced R.A. Dickey of the Blue Jays on May 2, 2008. Hill jokingly labeled the game as “AARP Day.”
But when a reporter followed up on Wainwright’s quip about giving the fans what they wanted, they asked him if he felt 25 years old again.
“Yeah,” he said, “minus about four or five miles an hour [on pitch speed]. But, yeah.”
Wainwright isn’t showing any signs of slowing down — so much so that he announced last week that he plans to return for at least one more season. In a video posted on his Big League Impact nonprofit’s YouTube channel, Wainwright — wearing a “In Jesus’ Name I Pray” shirt — asked each member of his family if he should play again next season. They all said he should.
Though Wainwright has yet to sign an extension with the Cardinals, it seems likely the club will be heavily interested in bringing him back. Wainwright was a free agent this past offseason, and he said he had real interest from other clubs that he gave serious consideration to before eventually staying with the Cardinals, the only major league team he’s played for in his 16-year career.
Wainwright, who is the Cardinals’ all-time leader in postseason starts with 28, said he signed with the Cardinals for a chance to add to that total.
“It showed me that I really want to win,” he said about re-signing with the Cardinals. “I didn’t want to come back just to play to play. I really want to have a chance to win.”
Wainwright’s next start will come in a big game on Sunday against the San Diego Padres, a team they are tied with in the wild-card standings entering Tuesday.
In the meantime, Wainwright — who has never been shy about his faith in Jesus — is back at it again this season with his fantasy football league that he runs through Big League Impact. He and several other major leaguers join with fans to play fantasy football and raise money for various charities.
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