(Busch Stadium) In the end, the St. Louis Cardinals came up short in Game 3 of the NLDS as they fell 3-1 to the Atlanta Braves. But it was not before starter Adam Wainwright turned in a classic performance on and off the field for his team.
Making his 25th post season appearance, the most by any pitcher in Cardinals history, Wainwright struck out four of the first six hitters he faced and worked around hits in the third and fourth innings.
Mixing a fastball that topped out at 92mph with a variety of breaking pitches that ranged from 68-78mph, Wainwright took a 1-0 lead into the sixth, before he gave up a two-out single to Ozzie Albies which brought Freddie Freeman to the plate for Atlanta.
With two balls and two strikes, Wainwright stepped off the mound and took a deep breath. He glanced over at Albies on first base as he stepped back on the mound, then looked in for the signal from Molina, delivered, and broke off a curve past the swing of Freeman for the final out of the inning. An emotional Wainwright yelled “Let’s Go” as he stomped off the mound back to the Cardinals dugout.
“Yeah, that was a big spot,” Wainwright said. “I knew that Freddie is maybe going to be top 3 or 4 in the MVP voting. Just one swing of the bat can change it, so I just wanted to make sure–that’s why the pitch clock can’t happen in the playoffs. A pitcher’s got to be able to slow the game down. Slow your mind down. An old lesson from Jason Isringhausen way back in the day. Just step off and breathe and re-focus yourself. That’s what I was doing right there, just making sure that everything was in the right spot. My mind was in the right spot and I had a good plan going forward.”
Two innings later, as he battled to try and finish the eighth, Wainwright again slowed things down and focused on his mantra for the day.
“It’s funny how this works out,” Wainwright explained. “I lead a couple groups of men through the Bible and the verse I kept saying in my head today was first Timothy 1:7. ‘The Lord did not give us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of self control’. I just kept saying that the entire time I was pitching and it seemed to focus me, seemed to get my mind in the right spot. I was very in control of my body all day and pitches, usually when you’re controlling your body that’s what happens afterwards.”
Wainwright was unable to finish off the eighth but Andrew Miller came on to get Freeman to fly out with the bases loaded to preserve the 1-0 lead. Carlos Martinez came on for the ninth inning and allowed all three runs.
“I’ll talk to Carlos for sure–give him a big ol’ hug,” Wainwright said. “Carlos will be ready to tomorrow. He’s a great competitor, great stuff. Left a couple pitches up today, their guys made good swings. This has been a great series. We’ve played three very good baseball games so far.”
As Wainwright fielded questions in front of his locker for well over ten minutes, a few feet away was Jack Flaherty–observing the entire scene, appearing to take mental notes on how the veteran delivered another command performance of discussing the loss, praising his teammates, and building hope the series wasn’t over. Flaherty then circled around the scrum and broke into give Wainwright a hug before leaving.
It was the second notable sign of appreciation for Wainwright on the day. The first came when the sold-out crowd of more than 46,000 rose to their feet as Adam exited the game after 7.2 scoreless innings. Besides his performance, the uncertainty of what next year will bring also added emotion to the fans applause.
“Yeah, made me feel pretty good walking off the mound today,” Wainwright smiled. “They poured their heart out for me today and I poured my heart out for them today. It was a cool time of mutual respect out there. I was loving every minute of that game–it was one of the most fun games I ever pitched. Against a great lineup in a great atmosphere at home, I can’t ask for much more than that.”
And neither can the Cardinals and their fans from Adam Wainwright.
photo credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports