(BaseballStL) — Adam Wainwright had never lost a postseason game until last year’s NLCS. He comes into Thursday’s possible elimination having lost four of his last five October starts.
“I just don't want to get a bad rap for not being a good playoff pitcher. That's the time I want to shine the most,” the 33-year-old said. “That's the time that every pitcher wants to shine the most. I know I'm capable of doing that.”
Wainwright won 20 games this season for the second time in his career. He led the league in shutouts (3) for the second year in a row, and also allowed the fewest home runs per nine innings, 0.4 (10 homers over 227 innings). He brought new pitches into the season with him, evolving his attack in the ninth year of his career.
“He's just one of the very few that is so talented, but so motivated, too, to constantly find that next gear, that next level,” Mike Matheny said. “I use the example a lot this year; he shows up into spring training after being in consideration for the Cy Young, he shows up with a couple new pitches and not content with what he's done in the past, and thinking, ‘I’ve got to do more.’”
With all he accomplished in 2014, including a perfect 5-0 September garnished with two complete games and a shutout, it seems tragic he would be worried about a negative reputation. But this October has been unkind to the three-time All-Star.
Wainwright opened the 2014 playoffs with an uncharacteristically rocky start in Los Angeles, and battling elbow pain, began the NLCS with a similarly brief outing. He has been unable to close out five innings in a game this postseason, allowing a combined 17 hits and eight earned runs while walking four.
But the Cardinal ace has been relentlessly positive, saying his sore elbow is improving along with his mechanics after each start.
“When your arm doesn't feel the best, you need everything else to be locked in and your delivery to be sharp. My delivery was not sharp. My arm didn't feel great the last few times out,” he said. “Now my arm feels better and my delivery should be much sharper going forward, so it should be a much more polished pitcher you see on the mound.”
Wainwright will need to be buffed to perfection, since the pitcher he’s sharing the hill with has been nearly flawless through three starts in October. Madison Bumgarner can smell the World Series, and his Game 1 performance sets an unpleasant precedent for the Cardinal offense.
But St. Louis never seems to fade meekly away.
The Cardinals clawed their way to this point not by winning 15 straight games, but by never losing more than four in a row. They were never swept in a three-game series all season. It was always 1.5 steps forward and one step back.
Wainwright fought through a gruesome August to emerge more dominant than he had been all season. Through questions of fatigue, age, overuse and diminishing returns, the veteran starter kept throwing, winning games and steering his team into to October.
So it’s fitting the team that sagged several times finds itself at the breaking point, led by their patron saint of perseverance. If the ailing Wainwright can face down Bumgarner and the crafty, opportunistic Giants offense, he will send the Cardinals back to St. Louis for at least one more game. That’s the stuff reputations are made of.