THE REDBIRD REVIEW
In the process of engraving his 199th career victory, Adam Wainwright brought forth a pitching performance that made his first 198 wins possible.
Did he throw hard? Not particularly. Did he create breezes in the batter’s box with a bunch of swings and misses? No, he had only four of those. Waino is 42 years old, for gosh sake.
Instead, what we saw in Tuesday’s 5-2 triumph in Baltimore was classic Wainwright. The wily Wainwright. The resourceful Wainwright. The resolute Wainwright. He wasn’t dominant – but he sure was devious.
Waino’s pitches danced and darted. He froze hitters, giving the Orioles fits with his arm angles and modulated velocity. He notched 22 called strikes by tantalizing his opponents with slithering pitches on the border of the strike zone.
Wainwright got the timely ground balls, including one that set up an important double play. He used his abundant pitching intellect and hardcore competitiveness to fight and maneuver his way out of jams. He had just three strikeouts. But in the final one – a vintage Uncle Charlie special – Wainwright lured Baltimore’s Adam Frazier into the dead man’s curve with a lunging swing that was no match for gravity. The curveball dived, Frazier swung over it, and Waino left Orioles stranded at second third to end his five innings of artwork.
Oh, say can you see? Wainwright summoned his past, confused the hitters, and his late-season, late-career sorcery brought back memories and was fun to watch.
The Orioles couldn’t square up pitches. They were off guard and off balance. The O’s had only four hard-hit balls for an extremely low hard-hit rate of 21.1 percent. That’s crazy. They did not barrel a single pitch. That’s preposterous. Their average exit velocity was a rather harmless 85.4 miles per hour – which, come to think of it, kind of matched Waino’s average exit velocity on his pitches this season.
Tuesday, via Brooks Baseball Net, Wainwright concocted a mix that featured 29 curves, 28 sinkers and 27 cutters. All of his instruments were in sync. It was symphonic. The conductor on the hill was in charge.
The Orioles got to Wainwright for two runs. But considering that 40 percent of his batters faced reach base, the Orioles had Waino boxed in pn numerous occasions but he prevented them from scoring a lot more. With Wainwright conjuring feats of legerdemain, Baltimore was 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position and had one hit in eight at-bats in high-leverage showdowns.
“That’s probably the best we’ve seen in a while,” Cardinals manager Oli Marmol told reporters on site. “He changed arm angles, pitched inside effectively, a lot of soft contact, navigated a really tough lineup well. He ran into traffic, was able to pitch out of it.”
Say this for Wainwright: career win No. 199 was earned. The Cardinals didn’t score a double-digit runs to put him in a safe space. He didn’t have to survive and barely hang on to prevail in some 13-11 slugfest.
A conga line of St. Louis relievers – Giovanny Gallegos, Matthew Liberatore, John King and Ryan Helsley – protected Wainwright’s lead over the final four (scoreless) innings, allowing only three of 14 Oriole hitters to get on base.
Make no mistake, this was Waino’s night. And this wasn’t a charity win. After laboring through a frustrating and sad sequence of starts that lasted more than two months, the old Wainwright rewound time and pitched like the young Wainwright.
(Note to the whiners: there’s this word, “context.” Look into it. So let me be clear: On Tuesday this was not the peak-form Wainwright from, say, 2009 and 2010. And I never said that he was. Before Tuesday night the 2023 version of Wainwright had an 8.19 ERA on the season and a 10.72 for the 11 starts that followed his career win No. 198. And over those 11 starts, opposing hitters batted .380 and had a 1.090 OPS in 1923. But on Tuesday night, Wainwright made great pitches when he needed them, dramatically lowered the usual hard-hit rate against him with lots of soft contact, and finagled his way out of jams.
(We haven’t seen much of that from him this year. So: relative to his established standards for 2023, and based on the substantially lowered expectations, Wainwright was significantly better against the Orioles and that warrants praise. He had some of the same stuff working that we watched in his very good seasons, and got the job done against the best team in the American League with an offense that’s averaging 5.2 runs per game. If you really need me to explain this rather simple context to you, then Godspeed to you as you try to navigate through the many complexities of life.)
Here’s what the heralded American sportswriter Joe Posnanski wrote in his blog:
“Watching Wainwright try to outsmart hitters with an 87-mph sinking fastball and a once-elite curveball that now just kind of sits there has been hard. Seeing a good and great player struggle at the end is not exactly a reason Why We Love Baseball … but it also is, I think, because every time out sparks a hundred memories, and every now and again they find a little of their youth. Wainwright wasn’t GREAT on Tuesday night. But he didn’t allow a homer, and he held a terrific Baltimore team to two runs and he got win No. 199. He has three starts to get to 200, and I really want it for him. I know there isn’t any important difference between 199 and 200 wins, but nobody can deny that 200 sounds better. Adam deserves better.”
Back to our normal programming.
I know that 199 is the number of the moment. And I realize that Wainwright is aiming for career victory 200 and will have three more starts to hit the goal that’s special to him. But aside from that – whether he gets there or not – it’s important to remember a few things.
As is, Wainwright ranks third to Bob Gibson and Pop Haines in franchise history for regular-season career wins (199). He’s second to Gibson in WAR, strikeouts (2,199), quality starts (245) and games started (410). This — and more — is why Wainwright should be viewed as the second-greatest starting pitcher in Cardinals history.
We should also talk about how many times the Cardinals have won with Wainwright as their starting pitcher … not individual wins, but team wins.
The Cardinals have 253 victories in regular-season games started by Wainwright and have a .617 winning percentage in his 410 starts. The Cardinals won 285 of Gibson’s career regular-season starts but the Cardinals have a slightly higher winning percentage in games started by Waino compared to games started by Gibby.
You can do the simple math. I’m not suggesting Wainwright is Gibson’s equal; that would be baseball blasphemy. But when STL’s team winning percentage is that close together for each man’s career starts, it reflects well on Waino.
I want to point out something else. Only one pitcher in Cardinals history has put together this postseason combination:
– At least three postseason wins as a starting pitcher.
– At least two postseason wins as a reliever.
– At least four postseason saves as a closer.
That would be Adam Wainwright.
Wainwright has more regular-season career wins than Dizzy Dean. Wainwright has more career postseason saves than Bruce Sutter.
Waino doesn’t need 200 individual career wins to validate an astral career. But it would make him happy, so we sure hope he can get there.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus 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.