Cardinals Nation is in mourning. With one swing of the bat, Chris Taylor ended a frustrating and agonizing Wednesday night for the St. Louis Cardinals. The two-out walk-off on a two ball, one strike count provided the dramatic finish to secure a spot in baseball history.
For years to come, the National League version of the Bucky Dent home run will be etched in St. Louis memories. Given less then a two percent chance to make the playoffs back in early August, the Cardinals surged into a franchise record-setting finish to set-up what may be in hindsight the biggest moment in the 2021 postseason.
For all the nail biting and handwringing that came with the Dodgers/Cardinals Wild Card Game match-up, none of it would have been possible without the right arm of Adam Wainwright. His ability to take the ball and deliver down the stretch of the season set the tone for this Redbirds team. A look inside the numbers reveals just how dominating the 40-year-old was throughout the season.
Wainwright arrived on the major league baseball scene on September 11, 2005. Never a hard thrower like some, his best fastball topped out in the 91 mile per hour range and even today rarely tops 90. The ace of the Cardinals staff is proud to be known as a pitcher and not just a thrower.
It is why in 2021, batters who hit .227 against him the first time through the order struggled to hit .188 against him the second and third times. He did it again in the Wild Card game against the Dodgers capping a 1-2-3 fifth with just 10 pitches.
Commenting on the game for The Athletic, Pittsburgh Pirates beat writer Rob Biertempfel may have summed up Wainwright’s performance the best.
“As Max Scherzer watched from the dugout, Adam Wainwright chugged along with a 1-2-3 fifth inning,” Biertempfel wrote. “Wainwright led the majors with three complete games this season and two last year. The biggest reason, of course, is that the dude flat-out knows how to pitch and often gets better as the game goes on.
“But some of it also is due to his status as a 16-year veteran and his mound savvy, which have earned him the trust of his manager and the right to work his way out of jams and deeper into games.
“What about tonight? With the score knotted at 1 and Wainwright at 83 pitches, manager Mike Shildt let his pitcher hit with a runner on first and two outs in the top of the sixth. Onward.”
It is what Wainwright has done best when his team needed him the most. Standing at 10-6 entering his start against the Pirates on August 11th and his team struggling to keep its head above water, Wainwright showed why he is the ace. The righty twired a complete game two-hit shutout and his team never looked back, closing the season winning 34 of their last 50 outings to make the playoffs.
The 40-year-old was nothing short of spectacular. Like a Greg Maddux of yesteryear, he won six of his last seven starts with two no decisions averaging seven plus innings per outing. He allowed a minuscule 16 earned runs for an ERA of 1.85. In the month of September alone, he was 4-0 with two no decisions going six innings in every start but one. His ERA stood at 2.73 and a WHIP of 1.18.
And before you say one month does not make a season, let’s look at those numbers as well. Wainwright finished 2021 with the third highest innings pitched in the majors at 206 1/3. In seven of the pitching categories tracked by Major League Baseball, he finished in the top 10. He was either first or second in games started, complete games, innings pitched and wins. His season ERA was 3.05 just one one-hundredth of a point out of the top ten. Not bad for a 40-year-old whom most thought was on the downhill side just a couple of years ago.
Cardinals fans may be mourning the Wild Card loss but joy comes in the morning. Wainwright will be back on the hill for St. Louis for a 17th season in 2022, looking to help create another memorable and magical season. And who knows? He just might have the Cy Young Award tucked in his back pocket.
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