By Brian Feldman, BaseballStL
With the news Adam Wainwright is cleared for baseball activities and is now full-go in his effort to join the Cardinals' bullpen for the stretch run into the playoffs, it's appropriate to look at what this means for the team. On the field, sure, it's invaluable. The Cards are in need of some relief help to get to closer Trevor Rosenthal and Wainwright should be able to fill that role with excellence.
But there's so much more. Wainwright's leadership, his work ethic and his child-like personality are all infectious on this club. There really isn't a quantifiable value to place on someone who's job goes far beyond the X's and O's.
We're talking intangibles to the extreme here.
In that spirit, I thought it'd be cool to look back at some of the top moments in #50's career:
August 6th, 2010 at Florida
From start to finish, probably the most dominant game Adam Wainwright has ever pitched. A two-hitter against the Marlins with those two hits come by way of a swinging bunt and a weak blooper. It punctuated the best full regular season Wainwright ever had to that point. 2010 represented his best chance at a Cy Young to date when he finished the season with a 20-11 record and a 2.42 ERA. The Cards missed the postseason that year and Wainwright missed all of 2011 due to Tommy John surgery. This game was probably the best pitcher going, pitching at his absolute best.
2012 NLCS: Game 1 vs San Francisco
This game was about redemption. Six days earlier, the Cardinals played a winner-take-all Game 5 against the Washington Nationals and Wainwright did not have his best stuff (to put it mildly). He lasted barely into the third inning and put the Cards in a 6-0 hole. It took a huge team effort to come back and win 9-7. Wainwright apparently felt compelled to send a message the next opportunity he got. Facing the eventual World Series champions, the Cards' ace went seven innings and gave up just one run in a 8-3 at Busch Stadium. If there was ever a doubt as to Wainwright's stamina in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery the year prior, this eliminated that doubt.
2013 NLDS: Game 5 vs Pittsburgh
The image is iconic. Wainwright, knees bent with arms in front, screaming to the heavens about sending the Redbirds to the NLCS. The division series against the Pirates was far more emotionally draining than anyone could have predicted. We all thought Pittsburgh would have been just happy to be in the playoffs. They shouldn't have been a match for the battle-tested Cardinals, right? Wrong. Facing elimination, it took a Michael Wacha gem to send the series back to St. Louis for the winner-take-all Game 5. At Busch Stadium, there was no stopping Wainwright on this day. He went all nine innings and gave up just one measly run. The Cardinals' 6-1 win catapulted the team to a third consecutive NLCS. It's about as good of a game as we have ever seen the man pitch.
2006 NLCS: Game 7 vs New York
One pitch. This moment comes down to one stinking pitch. In his first full season in Major League Baseball, young Adam Wainwright pitched his way into the closer's role for Tony La Russa. Clinging to a 3-1 lead in the decisive Game 7, Waino came in to send the Cards back to the World Series. Following back-to-back singles from Jose Valentin and Endy Chavez, Wainwright elicited a strike out and line out of Aaron Heilman and Jose Reyes. A walk to Paul Lo Duca loaded the bases for Carlos Beltran. In stepped one of the best hitters in baseball with a chance to knot the game up - or even give the Mets the lead - with one swing of the bat. First pitch: called strike. Second pitch: foul. Third pitch: you know how this one ends. A devastating breaking ball at the knees froze Beltran and sent the city of St. Louis into the biggest frenzy it had seen in years. It was an iconic moment for Adam Wainwright. He may never be able to top it.
2006 World Series: Game 6 vs Detroit
If there is anything that can top Wainwright's knee-bending curveball to Carlos Beltran it's his World Series clinching strikeout of Brandon Inge to win the World Series eight days later. The situation was just as dangerous considering Placido Polanco represented the tying run on first base. Inge never had a chance. The first strikeout of the inning clinched the Cardinals first World Series title in 24 years.
Big League Impact
No list of Adam Wainwright's accomplishments would be complete without his biggest contribution to society. Big League Impact is probably the most innovative, fun, unique way of raising money for a worthy cause. You can actually be in a fantasy football league with professional baseball players (including Wainwright) while contributing money help meeting basic human needs like food, water and shelter in countries around the world. The organization's website claims it raised more than $450,000 to benefit 20 non-profit organizations.
Individual dances with each teammate
When I said before Wainwright's value to the Cardinals goes far beyond his quantifiable statistics, this right here is exactly what I mean. The man has a different pregame dance he does in the dugout with almost every person on the team. First of all, how he remembers each one is ridiculous enough. Second, it's the fact he cares so much about keeping everyone loose and not over-thinking before starting the game which is so cool. He doesn't have to do that. He doesn't have to go out of his way to make guys laugh minutes before taking the field. It's part of Wainwright's charm. It's part of what makes him one of the best guys in all of baseball. It's...awesome.