ST. LOUIS -- Halfway through April, Adam Wainwright said, “I will be a very good pitcher. I’m just not one right now.”
It wasn’t defiance that fueled the comment, it was faith. The Cardinal ace truly believed he would find his way, something requiring require a thorough search. At the time, he had an ERA of 8.27 and had allowed 22 hits (11 for extra bases) in 16 innings.
But he proved prescient, finally turning a corner after his worst outing of the season in Los Angeles. He bounced back with scoreless, 6.2 inning start, and has gone at least six innings in every outing since.
Wednesday, Wainwright was the best he’d been all year.
The 34-year-old threw 93 pitches over seven scoreless innings. He allowed four hits- singles scattered across four different frames- and allowed just one runner in scoring position all day.
“When you get locked in those 0-0 games, sometimes it does drive you to pitch with a little more focus,” he said, noting opposing starter Collin McHugh matched him nearly inning for inning. “You don’t want to be the first one to give up a run.”
McHugh cracked first, allowing a run in the bottom of the seventh. It came from Wainwright’s spot in the order, but the Cardinal starter was pulled for a pinch hitter with two men on. It removed a chance for Wainwright to atone for stranding three runners in the fifth, the only other time St. Louis mounted a threat.
“Had I got a hit earlier in the game with the bases loaded, I’m still pitching,” he said. “[Then]I go up and hit again. So it’s all on me.”
Pinch hitter Greg Garcia picked up an RBI single in his stead, but Wainwright forfeited at least one more inning on the mound.
Despite not seeing much of these new-look Astros, Wainwright and his battery mate Yadier Molina formulated a game plan that had been resoundingly effective to that point. To combat the length of Houston’s hitters, the two veterans worked vertically rather than horizontally.
“Up and down was going to be key for me,” Wainwright said. “Watching film on these guys, a lot of them have very good plate coverage. So it was it was more up and down than in and out sometimes.”
He picked up six strikeouts and another four outs on the ground. Two of the four hits he allowed were infield singles.
It was fitting his best outing of 2016 came Wednesday, as it was the 198th start Wainwright and Molina have made together. That mark makes them the longest-running battery in St. Louis franchise history, passing Bob Gibson and Tim McCarver. Molina scored the go-ahead (at the time) run for the Cardinals in the seventh to give Wainwright what would have been the win, if not for two ugly innings of relief from Kevin Siegrist and Trevor Rosenthal.
“We were an eighth and ninth away from being real happy,” Mike Matheny said afterward.
Though the Cardinals lost 4-1, Wainwright brought his ERA down to 4.78. He’s now allowed just four runs over his last three starts, posting an ERA of 1.80 in his last 20 innings.