ST LOUIS — Adam Wainwright likes to say baseball is a humbling game. Soar too high and this sport will cut you down. Wednesday night was a good example.
Four days after Wainwright raised $111,000 for charity and threw a gem of a complete game against the Atlanta Braves — a day he said would be remembered as one of his best — the Cardinals’ ace, well, he can tell you …
“This is the worst start I’ve ever had in my career, if I’m not mistaken,” he said.
“What can you say? I pitched terrible, and that’s why we lost the game.”
Wainwright lasted just two innings against the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday. By the time he threw his 53rd and final pitch, Cincinnati had scored nine runs on eight hits. For the first time in his career, Wainwright didn’t make it into the third. It was the most earned runs he had given up as a major leaguer and caused his ERA to jump from 2.58 to 2.96.
It was ugly, and concerning. Enough so that the game itself — the Cardinals never recovered and lost to the Reds 10-0 — took a backseat to a more important question: What the heck happened to Wainwright?
Word rippled through the Busch Stadium press box that Wainwright might have had a hard time getting loose before the game. And then there was the pitch count (128) in his previous start — something Reds manager Dusty Baker attributed to the struggle.
“I knew we had a chance because Wainwright had gone 128 pitches the time before, so that’s quite a strain on him,” Baker said after the game.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny and Wainwright squashed such theories.
“It was just a tough night,” Matheny said. “That’s all there is to it. He doesn’t have very many of them. But everybody has them. You put them behind you and get ready for the next one.”
“No,” Matheny said when asked if he saw any pre-game signs of Wainwright’s looming trouble.
“No,” he said when asked if Wainwright’s season-high pitch count the previous game could have been a contributing factor.
Wainwright expanded a little.
“I was focused, had a good plan and just didn’t execute some pitches,” he said. “The pitches I did execute, they found holes. It’s just a really bad night, a perfect storm.”
He said he felt “sharp” in the bullpen and “fine” when he entered the game. He also stiff-armed the pitch-count link.
“I’m a big, strong man,” Wainwright said. “This is what we train for all offseason, and all season long, to be ready for games like this. This could have happened in May.”
Whatever the reason, it was Wainwright’s worst. It was a humbling and frustrating outing for a guy who had just been sky high.
More important is what it apparently wasn’t — a sign of something that might threaten Wainwright moving forward.
Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org