ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- “I knew it would come down to the last day. It always does.” Adam Wainwright said it with a grin, but his voice carried a tone of complete certainty.
When the Cardinals moved his start back in order to line him up for game 162, it was no sure thing his final appearance would come in a meaningful game. But Wainwright believed it would carry consequence, and with hours to go before the end of the regular season, he’s preparing to guide the Cardinals into battle; one that will be their last, desperate grasp at a postseason berth.
“This is what we live for as competitors. The big games,” he said. “The big starts like this for me? I’ll remember these for the rest of my life.”
Sunday is baseball distilled down to its purest form; win and keep the season alive, lose and empty your locker in a quiet clubhouse. For one more day, they must put out of their mind any of the numerous chances this season that slipped away; games lost due to poor fielding, ugly starts, tactical misplays or complete lethargy at the plate. Had any one of those forgettable games gone the other way, the Cardinals wouldn’t be dependent on an outcome two time zones away.
But here is where they find themselves, still alive and sending their best big-game pitcher to the mound for the final nine innings of the 2016 regular season.
Unlike in years past, expectations are a coin flip. Over his last three starts, Wainwright has been unable to complete six innings. His given up 26 hits combined and allowed at least four runs in each outing. Is that the Wainwright taking the ball? Or is it the one who went eight innings and allowed a single run against Milwaukee on September 10?
Is it the Wainwright who believes he’s “dangerous,” as he did on May 18? Or the version who was so flummoxed and disheartened by his inconsistency he told reporters “I don’t know what else to say” when asked to identify what was wrong.
It’s not certain even he knows. In a season like 2016, the worst of his career and one in which the Cardinals inexplicably come up short in crucial moments time and again, there isn’t much certainty to be found.
One thing he does know, however, is that Saturday night, he’ll put his kids to bed, tuck in his wife, and begin his preparation.
“I do an hour and a half the night before, of watching hitters, watching film,” he said. “I’ve pitched the World Series 32 or 33 times already this season. Tomorrow is going to be no different for me. I take every start very, very seriously. I prepare every start the exact same. I’ll be very prepared and very ready tomorrow.”
The Cardinals hope that is enough. If it is, they hope Kenta Maeda and the Dodgers take their final contest just as seriously. If the outcomes fall favorably, it will mean yet another do-or-die game Monday, all for the right to play one more Wednesday. But those dates may as well be a decade from now. Wainwright takes the mound Sunday with nothing ahead of him but the next pitch, the execution of which will determine whether he - and the team behind him - will be afforded a shot at redemption.