With Adam Wainwright calling it a career, there have been a lot of retrospectives and tributes that try to sum up who he was as a player and what he meant to the team. Well you can skip all of those, because if you want to know who Adam Wainwright was all you need to know about is one game. It is not closing out the NLCS or World Series. It is not a one hitter against the Diamondbacks in 2014 or the two hitter in his first shutout against the Brewers. Not the Maddux he threw at 40 years old or the 200th and last win of his career. In fact the game isn't even mentioned here or here. No, the quintessential Wainwright game was April 18th 2010.
Don't remember that one? Well, let me tell you about it.
To tell you about the game on April 18th 2010, I have to first tell you about the game on April 17th 2010. You see, the game on the 17th was in many ways more memorable. It was a 2-1 loss to the Mets that was a breezy 6 hours and 53 minutes long encompassing 20 innings. There were several notable things about the game including Albert Pujols being on base 6 times and Jaimie Garcia throwing 7 scoreless innings, but the notable thing I'd like to focus on is the 10 men that took the mound for the Cardinals including Bullpen Stalwarts Felipe Lopez (Hey! Remember him?) and Joe Mather who pitched two (!) innings and took the loss. After Garcia exited the game and before the position players took over, the pitching parade went thusly:
Kyle McClellen - 2 innings
Mitchell Boggs - 1.1
Trevor Miller- 1
Jason Motte - 1.1
Dennys Reyes - 1*
Blake Hawksworth - 2.1*
Ryan Franklin -1*
*Pitched the previous night as well
It is safe to assume that the bullpen was gassed having pitched what amounted to 2.2 games the night before. Not to worry, however because Cardinals' co-ace, Adam Wainwright was taking the mound on the 18th. I know because I was there to see it. My wife is a Nurse and pre-kids we would frequently take advantage of the "Healthcare Professionals" nights and get good tickets for 50% off. On that evening we were sitting in almost dead center in what I think was at the time called the Coca Cola...something or other. That's not really important, but I wanted to set the mood and I encourage you to have endless beer and nachos while reading this if you really want to appreciate what I experienced that evening.
The game began encouragingly enough. Wainwright retired the side in order in the first. The Cardinals went scoreless in the bottom half as well, but the inning ended with Ryan Ludwick getting thrown out at the plate on a Matt Holliday single. An ominous portent after scoring just one run in 20 innings the night before. Then came the second inning. A single on a slowly hit ball to third from Frank Catalanatto (not the John Madden impression guy) followed by a walk to Jeff Francoeur seemed like just a bit of bad luck, but when Gary Matthews hit another single through the infield with the bases loaded, thoughts began to creep in. "This is Waino's game. There is no way that he can go less than 5. There is just no one to take the innings." I don't know if it was the dread or my second beer, hotdog and plate of nachos, but my stomach in turmoil. Wainright got Rod Barajas to pop-up on the infield, but Angel Pagan cleared the bases with a solid line drive to right, putting the Cardinals in a three run hole, but more pressingly, it seemed to incidate that Wainright didn't have it and he was going to just have to stay out there and eat it. The bullpen would be overtaxed and this game and the ones that followed would be a difficult proposition for the Cardinals to cover.
With seven more innings to go and facing the harsh reality of the law of diminishing returns on those hotdogs and beers, the rest of the game looked bleak, but then Wainwright put the Mets down in order in the third...and the fourth, Okay, so at least I figured I would be spared the Joe Mather pitching experience. Pagan got another hit in the fifth and Alex Cora was hit by a pitch but Wainwright pitched around it and kept the score 3-0 and strangely enough a glance at that little box by the foul pole revealed that he had thrown just 61 pitches and I am thinking "Hey, he could go another couple of innings and while unspectacular, really help out a weary bullpen."
Then in the bottom of the fifth. the offense that had scored just one run in the last 27 innings, got a walk from Ludwick and a one out single from Holliday before Colby Rasmus hit one out to tie the game. This was getting fun. "Hell," I thought, "This calls for another plate of nachos." Adam Wainwright was back out to face the Mets in the sixth and face them he did. Three up, three down in the sixth, then the seventh, then the eighth. Wainwright seemingly getting stronger as the game went on. The Cardinals could not back him up however. The game remained tied half way through the eighth. The obvious question arose, if it stays tied and the game goes into extra innings, do they keep serving beer and nachos? It is supposed to be all you can eat. What if there is another 20 inning game. I could really get my money's worth out of these tickets. Oh, yeah, and who the hell is going to pitch if they go into extras?
In the bottom of the eighth, Brendan Ryan lead off and grounded out meekly to short. Adam Wainwright was due up, but would he hit? He had thrown 99 pitches through 8. Even if he could go another inning, how effective could he possibly be? We would soon find out. Even with solid hitting relief pitchers like Felipe Lopez and Joe Mather on the bench, Wainwright hit for himself. Now, baseball-reference, which has been supplementing my memory up until this point, describes the at bat as resulting in a ground ball, but in my memory, it was a laser that hit off the top of the wall. Either Way Wainwright hit a one out double. After a Felipe Lopez pinch hit strike out, Ryan Ludwick hit one about 30 feet away from me in center field to drive in Adam Wainwright as the go ahead run.
In the ninth, Wainwright finished the job by retiring his 11th, 12th and 13th man in a row. His final line:
9 IP, 4H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2BB, 9 K 107 pitches
1-3 with a BB, K, 2B, and run scored.
This is the ultimate Wainwright game to me because not only what he did, but doing exactly what needed to be done when there was no-one else that could do it. It was one my favorite games to see in person and doubt I will ever seen its like again.