ST. LOUIS — Adam Wainwright has waited a year to make this start. Three years, really.
While possessor of a Cardinals World Series championship ring from 2011, Wainwright found after the season that he wasn't quite as much a part of it as he had envisioned himself being.
Wainwright, recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery, thought his contributions were considerable in the dugout and the clubhouse once it was made clear to him that his pipe dream of pitching in the postseason would be just that. A dream.
“I felt like I was a huge impact to that team,” Wainwright said Saturday on the off-day before he will start Game 1 of the National League division series against Washington here Sunday afternoon.
“I'm not so sure I did anything, but I tricked myself into believing I was pretty important last year. I was there for whoever needed me. Nothing else to do, right?
”But when it really gets me is when autograph seekers hand me a ball and it's a 2011 World Series ball and then they take it back and say, ‘Sign this one instead.' That's when it hits home.“
Wainwright returned this year with a 14-13 season.
He started out 0-3 in April and then crafted a 4-2 May after not pitching well in the first half of that month, either. In June and July, he was 2-3 and then 2-2 before going 5-1 in August and then 1-2 in September.
He had two shutouts but also had five games in which he allowed five or more runs, posting a 13.92 earned-run average in those outings.
”Absolutely not,“ Wainwright answered, when asked if he expected a .500-ish season. He then went completely off the rails, calling himself ”one of the worst pitchers (in the majors) in the first half of the season.
“That first month I was an embarrassment to this team and to the game of baseball. I've never felt so lost on the mound in my entire life,” said Wainwright.
But while not satisfied with his record, Wainwright, in the next breath, figures he might have put one over on opposing hitters and teams. He was a one-pitch pitcher, a curveball, for a very long time.
“That was my only friend,” Wainwright said.
“For at least the first half of the season, I had zero life on my fastball. (Cincinnati's) Joey Votto told me that.
”The change-up has been invisible and not, to a good point, where a hitter couldn't see it. I'm talking to the point where I couldn't use it.
“And my slider was hanging. It was the pitch they wanted to hit.”
Now Wainwright fashions himself a four-pitch pitcher again and now he also realizes how long the road was that he actually traveled.
“I totally get why Tommy John recovery is so hard,” said Wainwright, who was injured throwing to hitters in Cardinals camp in February 2011. “It's hard for me to say that because I thought I was going to be the exception to the rule.”
Wainwright has had two widely disparate starts against Washington this year. On Sept.. 28 here, in his last appearance, Wainwright held baseball's winningest team to one run in six innings in a 12-2 Cardinals win. On Aug. 31 he allowed nine hits and six runs in 2 2/3 innings at Washington in a 10-0 loss.
“The first time around I was coming off six straight wins and I was pitching very well. Best I had all season,” Wainwright said.
“I had just a horrible game. And when your starting pitcher has a horrible game, your team is probably going to have a horrible game. A lot of times your starting pitcher can lose a game in five minutes.”
Wainwright has had the both of best postseason worlds. Relieving injured Jason Isringhausen as the closer in 2006, Wainwright got to record the last out in the division series, league championship series and World Series, pitching 9 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out 15.
Game 5 of the 2006 World Series was the last relief role for Wainwright, who started Game 2 of the division series in 2009, holding the Los Angeles Dodgers to only a solo homer by Andre Ethier off a “down and away curveball” in eight innings before closer Ryan Franklin had control issues and left fielder Matt Holliday lost a ball in the sun in the bottom of the ninth as the Cardinals lost 3-2.
The Cardinals dropped the next game in that series, too, and were swept in three games by the Dodgers.
Now, three years later, Wainwright is back on a playoff roster for the first time and also back on the mound.
“I'll be pretty fresh,” he said. “I don't think I've ever had eight days off between starts.”
Not since he had about 18 months between starts dating from the end of the 2010 season and the start of this one.
MCT Information Services