ST. LOUIS – Adam Wainwright didn’t expect to be pitching Thursday night. By this point he figured to be back home in Georgia, ready to start his offseason much earlier than he had hoped.
Wainwright was at home Thursday. He was at home on the Busch Stadium mound, doing what he does best. Thanks to a historic comeback to bail him out after a disastrous Game 5 start against the Washington Nationals last week, Wainwright got an unexpected chance to pitch again.
And boy, did he take advantage of it. The right-hander allowed one run and four hits in seven strong innings to help the Cardinals beat the San Francisco Giants 8-3. The win moved the Cardinals to within one win of a return trip to the World Series.
“It was very satisfying,” Wainwright said. “A little part of me wanted to reprove it to myself that I could go out there and pitch great when we need me to. I knew I could. I was just very confident in my ability and my stuff. I just needed to trust it and go out there and make pitches and tonight I was able to execute.”
Wainwright was on from the start, retiring the Giants in order in the top of the first before his offense gave him a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the inning. And that was all the run support he needed.
The former 20-game winner allowed only a long solo home run to Hunter Pence in the second inning, retiring 16 of the first 18 hitters he faced. He was in total control all night, feeding off the energy of a pumped playoff atmosphere at Busch Stadium.
His only real jam came in the sixth, when the Giants brought the tying run to the plate with one out for their two best hitters. But he got Buster Posey to fly to right and Pablo Sandoval to ground out to second to end the threat.
“He did everything we could have asked from him today,” manager Mike Matheny said. “I thought he was as sharp as we’ve seen him in a while.
“He established his fastball, and his curveball is as good as I’ve seen it. It was one of those times when a guy who’s a leader on your team has that opportunity to step up and do something big. And he did it.”
Wainwright was on the mound when the Cardinals won the World Series in 2006. He has pitched very well in his career in the playoffs and allowed just one run in 5 2/3 innings in a Game 1 start to the Nationals.
But in a game that he was seemingly born to pitch in, Wainwright admittedly choked last week in Washington. He had nothing. Three batters into the game, the Nationals led 3-0.
Wainwright gave up three home runs and six runs in just 2 1/3 innings, leaving with the Cardinals trailing 6-0. But thanks to the greatest comeback in a deciding game in postseason history, the Cardinals gave their ace a chance to make good.
He did just that, becoming the second Cardinals starter to finish seven innings this postseason. He looked like his vintage self, not the one who has surpassed 200 innings in his first season since having Tommy John surgery.
“I don’t think any of us were surprised,” Matheny said. “He was barely getting off the mound in Washington, telling everybody to pick him up and keep us right there. He wanted another chance to pitch and I think we all knew we’d see something pretty special if he did get that opportunity. That’s just his makeup.”
Wainwright sat and watched last season as his teammates completed an improbable run by beating the Texas Rangers and winning the World Series. Now he’s a part of the action and hopes to have a say in helping them defend their title.
His next start could come Wednesday in Game 1 of the World Series should his teammates finish the Giants with a win in one of the next three games. And if that happens, expect Wainwright to continue taking advantage of an opportunity he didn’t expect to have.