ST. LOUIS – The last time Adam Wainwright stepped off a mound, a funeral for the St. Louis Cardinals was supposed to follow. His six-run, seven-hit scramble in 2 1/3 innings against the Washington Nationals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series was supposed to be the mortal wound that buried the defending World Series champions. That moment in the delirious District, a city charged with postseason passion for the first time in 79 years, was supposed to mark an end.
Then, magic. St. Louis crawled from its casket and staged the most epic comeback in a winner-take-all game in playoffs history by scoring nine runs in the last six innings.
Wainwright was given an afterlife. The cardiac Cardinals were revived from their flat line. A flight to San Francisco for the National League Championship Series, improbable to consider a few hours earlier, became more than a dream.
So here comes Game 4 of the NLCS on Thursday at Busch Stadium, where Wainwright’s start will be no ghost story. The night’s theme will be possible redemption, a stab at righting the wrongs of a belly-up effort last Friday at Nationals Park. St. Louis received surprise production from Matt Carpenter (two RBI) and Shane Robinson (one RBI) on Wednesday, and it means the Cardinals could deliver a knockdown blow to the San Francisco Giants and earn a 3-1 series lead.
Here’s the intrigue: Giants manager Bruce Bochy will counter with Tim Lincecum, a two-time Cy Young Award winner turned bullpen specialist looking for a revival of his own.
Two pitchers. Two paths. One chance to make the most of a second life.
“Pitching in the postseason is so much fun it’s ridiculous,” said Wainwright, who ended the regular season with a 14-13 record and a 3.94 ERA. “And our team just picked me up and threw me on their back last game. I didn’t do well. But I look forward to the next challenge. I look forward to pitching for this team and for this city. I take great pride in that.”
Moments like this make the postseason. Stories of recovery. Stories of redemption. Stories that tell of new life after most assume the final breath is lost.
Wainwright and Lincecum are alike in that way. After all, Wainwright’s season should be over. What happened in Washington was another St. Louis October miracle – an inexplicable outcome when considering the mere inches in the ninth inning that separated the Cardinals from a charter flight home.
Then there’s Lincecum, the lanky right-hander who has been limited to three relief outings this postseason. He has been efficient in the role: He has allowed one run and three hits in 8 1/3 innings. Still, he’s a bit of an ugly duckling trying to find his former swan as a starter.
Lincecum failed to earn a spot on the postseason rotation after posting a 10-15 regular-season mark that included a hide-your-eyes 5.18 ERA. That total ballooned to as high as 6.42 after a loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 8. This season has been more worthy of a wince than a smile. Still, give him credit: He accepted his move to the bullpen, and Bochy praised him for it.
Both pitchers have shown an ability to adjust, and both give their teams something to anticipate in Game 4. With Wainwright, the Cardinals hope to earn another reason to throw a party at home. With Lincecum, the Giants hope to prove once more that they can play party-crashers on the road – as they did in stealing three consecutive games at Great American Ball Park in the NLDS.
“We’ve got a guy like Adam going out there for us tomorrow, and he’s been really, really good,” Cardinals reliever Mitchell Boggs said. “A chance to take a 3-1 lead on a team like this would be big for us. We understand that they aren’t going to go away. They’re one of the best teams in baseball, and you’ve just got to do what you can.”
What about you, Bochy?
“He’s the guy we want out there, and he’s been throwing the ball well,” he said of Lincecum.
“We have a good one going tomorrow. We’ve got to bounce back. It’s great to have a guy like Timmy all set to go to start for us, and we’ll look forward to playing.”
It’s a feeling that both clubhouses share in this seesaw series. After the final out was recorded Wednesday, red fireworks exploded in the sky above Busch Stadium, scattered remains of a crowd that braved a three-hour, 28-minute rain delay twirled white towels, and players walked toward their respective tunnels knowing Thursday could be a pivot point in their World Series chase.
It’s amazing how fast things change. Less than a week ago, Wainwright departed the mound at Nationals Park with most leaving the Cardinals for dead. Less than a day ago, Lincecum’s status as a starter was unknown.
This is a time for second chances. This is a time to extend postseason lives any way possible.