Satchel Paige, the immortal pitcher and sage, once asked a very good question: “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”
Paige had an anti-aging secret: spirit and joy. The Baseball Hall of Famer pitched regularly until age 46. He reappeared in 1965 to craft three scoreless innings for the Kansas City A’s. He was 58 at the time.
Satch didn’t count birthdays.
He defied them.
“Age is a case of mind over matter,” Paige famously said. “If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.”
Wednesday evening in Toronto, with the Cardinals desperately needing relief from losing, Albert Pujols and Adam Wainwright went full Satchel.
In a 6-1 victory, the two St. Louis franchise legends took the stage and were utterly brilliant. They were ageless, unstoppable, and inspirational. They were two towering presences that stood together again, rewinding time. Pujols and Wainwright took us back on a trip to their youth … and to ours. They created new memories to float dreamily with the hundreds of existing memories that Cardinal fans hold dear.
Goodness. This could have been 2006, when they were teammates on a surprising World Series champion. This could have been 2011, when they took another improbable ride in a World Series parade.
Neutralizing a raucous and rolling Toronto team, Pujols and Wainwright gave a demonstration of what the phrase “aging gracefully” means. But they weren’t very polite to the home team, but these vintage stars had a serious job to do. The Cardinals needed a rescue.
Wainwright, nearly 41, spun beautiful curve balls and killed the Blue Jays softly with his favorite song for seven innings of one-run, five-hit, eight-strikeout, no-walks artistry.
Pujols, 42, had three hits including a double and a monstrous three-run, 439-foot homer. The only thing missing in this blast from the past was a shocked Brad Lidge, standing on the mound as the baseball traveled into space.
“That’s why we still play the game,” Wainwright told media in his postgame interview. “We feel like we can contribute. I don’t think he’s out there, and I’m not out there, to be mascots. We want to go out and continue to be quality players.”
The Blue Jays went straight for the movie references.
And why not?
Pujols and Wainwright were 1.21 gigawatts of power.
“It feels like I got here in a DeLorean, went back in time,” Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider told reporters after the game. “You’ve got to tip your cap. They’ve been doing it for a long time and, obviously, both of them had great nights.”
Absolutely. As Dr. Emmett Brown said, “If you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style.”
Competing without Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado for the second consecutive game, the Cardinals came through with one of their most impressive wins of the season.
The Redbirds had lost two out of three games in Cincinnati in a wobbly return from the All-Star break. Goldschmidt and Arenado depleted much of the team’s lineup capability by refusing the Covid-19 vaccination that’s mandatory for visitors to Canada. The first game at Rogers Centre was a beatdown – a 10-3 loss that left the Cardinals reeling with a 10-14 record in their previous 24 games – and their 15th loss in their last 21 road tests.
The St. Louis starting pitching was free falling, the team’s offense had entered a recession, and the first-place Brewers had increased their lead over the Cards to 3 and ½ games by winning five of six games since the All-Star break.
The Cardinals needed a boost of pitching, offense and adrenaline. Pujols and Wainwright took care of it. We shouldn’t be surprised; their winning pedigree is there. On the other hand, is it fair to expect the two elders to handle the emergency? Why can’t other players take the wheel and get the Cardinals straightened out?
Wainwright is the second-greatest starting pitcher in Cardinals franchise history, ranking No. 2 in WAR to Bob Gibson. Pujols is the second-greatest hitter in franchise history, ranking No. 2 in WAR to Stan Musial.
The Cardinals had to find a baseball hero or two to take the lead, and Pujols and Wainwright were hardwired for the assignment. And their performances in Toronto were about as good as it gets.
It didn’t matter that Wainwright had a 4.36 ERA in his previous seven starts, or that he entered Toronto with a 4.81 road ERA on the season. He summoned his powers and earned career victory No. 191. In 20 starts this season, Wainwright has a 3.28 ERA in 123.1 innings. He ranks seventh among NL starting pitchers for most innings, and is 16th in ERA. Over the last two seasons the Cardinals have a 33-19 record in Waino’s starts.
It didn’t matter that Pujols batted .174 with a debilitated .279 slugging percentage over May and June. Albert has been a marvel in July, batting .348 with a .392 onbase percentage, .630 slug and a 1.023 OPS. Among Cardinals that have at least 50 plate appearance in July, Pujols ranks second to Arenado in batting average, onbase percentage, slugging, OPS, Isolated Power, and park–and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+.) Offensively Pujols is 81 percent above league average offensively in July. Safe to say that Pujols is shattering expectations. The farewell tour is turning into a tour de force.
“You get these veteran guys in Albert and Waino and they know what’s on the line,” said Marmol. “They sniff what’s possible and what we set out to do.”
And they’re having fun. That’s part of the reason why Pujols and Wainwright are fresh and still thriving. They’ve competed in 39 combined major-league seasons and nothing can dim their smiles. An endless love of the game is essential in the Satchel Paige formula for sustained success.
Thanks for reading …
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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.