BALTIMORE (AP) — Adam Wainwright took the mound at Camden Yards and, at times, his pitches barely exceeded the speed limit on nearby Interstate 95.
Still, the 42-year-old right-hander produced one of the best attacks of the game with two runs in five innings, and that was enough to earn his 199th victory.
This outing this week was exactly what Wainwright and the St. Louis Cardinals needed as the veteran pitcher nears the end of his career. His farewell season was difficult for him and his team, but it is now much easier to envisage a more pleasant ending.
“The level of competition for a pitcher should never go down, and sometimes it does, if I was going to be honest,” Wainwright said after that win in Baltimore. “But I knew one thing: I was going to come today and I was going to compete.”
This is the Wainwright that St. Louis fans will celebrate as he retires. A three-time All-Star who has been with the Cardinals since his major league debut in 2005, he has left quite a legacy. Wainwright was an early reliever, striking out Carlos Beltrán of the New York Mets to close out Game 7 of the National League Championship Series in 2006. The Cardinals won the World Series that year. They did it again in 2011 – even though Wainwright missed the entire season.
The Cardinals are currently a franchise in transition. They’ll finish with a losing record for the first time since 2007, and they’ve spent the last two years saying goodbye to team legends. Albert Pujols returned to St. Louis to play his final season last year, which was also Yadier Molina’s swan song. His 19-season career was spent entirely with the Cardinals.
“They had some special teams there with some real special veterans that were talked about a lot, and he was right with those guys,” said Orioles manager Brandon Hyde, who previously coached the Chicago Cubs.
Pujols cried a bit toward the end of last season, hitting 18 home runs after the All-Star break to surpass 700. For Wainwright, this final chapter has been very different. The victory against Baltimore was its first since mid-June and ended a seven-game losing streak. His ERA is 7.95 even after a decent performance against the Orioles.
“When you start looking at guys who have had similar careers, sometimes it doesn’t end well,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said before this game. “No one will ever question Waino’s competitive nature. … I hope he comes here and does his best, and whatever happens, happens.
Molina hit .214 during his senior year. Even though Pujols finished strong, he certainly struggled late in his career. Marmol said he wanted Wainwright to find joy in competing in his final days as a major league player, but the manager acknowledged it’s difficult if results don’t match those desired by a player.
That’s why Tuesday night seemed a bit dramatic as Wainwright struggled to keep the Orioles at bay — and then the St. Louis bullpen tried to protect the lead. When the Cardinals won 5-2, the victory belonged to Wainwright.
“I definitely need to start taking a deeper interest in the games, because watching the game is much more nerve-wracking than playing in the game,” he said. “I’m going to run out of nails here…if I keep throwing five innings.”
He’s just one win away from 200, and while there’s no guarantee he’ll get it, he has a chance. That’s about all the Cardinals have left to play for.
“The Waino case is in the news because we’re trying to celebrate something,” Marmol said. “So is there any added pressure to get to 200? Of course. Does he want it? Yes. Do we want it for him? Yes.”
No matter what happens, St. Louis will have the opportunity to show its appreciation. The Cardinals are in the middle of a home game against Philadelphia and Milwaukee. After hitting the road again, they will return to St. Louis for the very last series of the season against Cincinnati. On September 30, Wainwright is scheduled to perform a postgame concert on the penultimate day of the season, performing three original songs from his upcoming country album.
As for 200 wins, Wainwright understands the clock is ticking, but after the game in Baltimore he acknowledged it’s certainly a goal.
“That would be pretty cool.” It’s a nice round number,” Wainwright said. “Not much time. I knew today would be a very important victory for me if I could get it.
AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB