There wasn’t much Adam Wainwright could do this time last year when he watched painfully as his teammates won four elimination games en route to winning the World Series in a thrilling Game 7 win over the Texas Rangers.
Out for the season due to Tommy John surgery, the ultra-competitive Wainwright was relegated to cheerleader duty during the Cardinals magical run last season.
The wait will be worth it come 7:37 p.m. CT Friday night. Wainwright, who closed out the Cardinals World Series win as a rookie closer in 2006, will make the start he’s always dreamed of.
The right-hander will take the ball in the winner-take-all Game 5 against Nationals ace Gio Gonzalez, hoping to do what he didn’t have the chance to do a season ago: pitch the Cardinals deeper into the postseason.
“Of course I wish we would have won (Thursday), but you know what? This is every pitcher’s dream, I would say,” Wainwright told reporters after Thursday’s loss. “Every competitor’s dream is to go in huge moments like that, so I look forward to the challenge.”
“The postseason is so special anyway. This team has battled through so much this year and fought so hard to get where we are and just to be in the postseason again, it really can’t be underspoken how special that is to our team and me in general. I feel very blessed that I get to go out and compete.”
Wainwright is no stranger to pitching in big spots late in October. The right-hander struck out Carlos Beltran with the bases loaded to end the 2006 NLCS and send the Cardinals to the World Series in a thrilling Game 7 win over the New York Mets. He then closed out the World Series with a strikeout of Brandon Inge a week later.
The right-hander went 14-13 with a 3.94 ERA in 32 starts during the regular season. He started Game 1 against the Nationals Sunday and allowed just one earned run and six hits and had 10 strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.
Wainwright started Game 2 in the 2009 Division Series and allowed just three hits and one earned run in eight innings. He’s got a 0.77 ERA in 11 career postseason appearances, proving that he’s up to the challenge of pitching on baseball’s biggest stage.
And the stakes will be even bigger come Friday night. Which is just the way he likes it.
“I can look at big moments I’ve been in before and build off that and dig deep and think about moments I’ve been in before,” Wainwright said. “But if you get caught up thinking about too much in the past, you’re not living in the now enough. I’ll be ready for tomorrow.
“This place gets pretty loud. That eruption that happened at the end of the game, that was pretty loud, one of the loudest I’ve heard. I expect their crowd to be out here in full force and luckily I like to hear that crowd too. The louder the better.”
Reminded that Shea Stadium was pretty loud during his appearance in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, Wainwright joked, “Yea it was. For a minute.”
Wainwright and the Cardinals hope to silence the crowd again Friday and live to fight another day. And he couldn’t be more ready to finally get his chance.