ST. LOUIS Adam Wainwright couldnt have been more focused and excited to start the winner-take-all Game 5 of the NLDS in Washington last week. Then he went out and pitched a dud, allowing six runs in 2 13 innings to put his team in a huge hole.
For a while, it looked like that would be the last start the right-hander would make in 2011. It was a taste he surely wasnt wanting to take with him into the offseason.
But then the Cardinals did the unthinkable, coming back from the six-run deficit to stun the Nationals 9-7 and advance to the National League Championship Series against the Nationals.
They kept their season alive. More importantly, they gave Wainwright a chance at redemption. Hell start Thursday nights Game 4 against the Giants with the Cardinals leading the series 2-1.
"It was all part of my plan," Wainwright joked. "You lose the first two and you're pitching great, you've got to wake the team up. I don't want them out there sitting back on their heels. I purposely went out and pitched terribly to be unselfish."
Wainwright made sure those listening knew he was kidding, adding, "just so everyone knows, that was in jest."
The right-hander couldnt have been more disappointed with his performance. A big game pitcher, Wainwright was on the mound when the Cardinals won the World Series in 2006. He allowed one run in 5 23 innings in a Game 1 start to the Nationals.
But in a game that he was seemingly born to pitch in, Wainwright admittedly choked. He had nothing. Three batters into the game, the Nationals led 3-0. He gave up three home runs. It looked like the Cardinals season was over.
He gets another shot Thursday. And he couldnt be more ready to take advantage of it.
"Very relieved," Wainwright said. "That was not the performance I was expecting to have for a Game 5, winner take all game, I promise you that.
"But really doesn't matter as long as we win the game. And so I look at how I feel rather than the way the last outcome happened. My arm feels great and feeling strong, so very confident in my stuff. I don't worry about that last game."
Said manager Mike Matheny, "I know that's not how he wanted it to go. And he kept asking the guys, Hey, give me another shot, give me another shot. He's got his other shot, so he's anxious to get back out there and do something different."
Wainwright went 14-13 with a 3.94 ERA in 32 starts this year, his first since missing all of the 2011 campaign due to Tommy John surgery. But his rough start last time out brought renewed questions about his workload, which surpassed 200 innings during his Game 1 start.
The Cardinals originally said last winter that they expected to keep Wainwright somewhere around 150 innings. That obviously didnt happen.
"I think that was the team protecting itself," Wainwright said. "And if I did start to tire in the middle of the season they could back me off a little bit. But a funny thing about being a competitor, you know your body better than anybody else. 150 innings to me is, I mean, the amount of seasons I've had before I felt like I was seasoned better than 150 innings, whether I was coming off injury or not.
I think that did play a role in it.
"My body, as the season went on, got stronger. My arm continued to get stronger. I had a stretch there in August where everyone was saying I should be shut down where I won six straight games. It was the best I pitched all year. I didn't really look at the innings number. I just never doubted my ability."
Wainwright admits that, "certainly the beginning of the season was a grind for me, a really tough stretch where I didn't pitch well, but my arm was pretty much hanging. I'm well past that now. My arm feels great.
"I would say right now my curveball is probably the best it's ever been. And I would say the zip of my fastball is maybe a touch down from where it has been in the past. But I think physically from a "how's your arm feeling" kind of standpoint my arm feels probably better than it usually does at this point in the year, for whatever reason, whether it be all the rehab or whatnot."
Nobody expected him to still be pitching at this point in the season. They didnt expect the Cardinals to still be playing, either. Now Wainwright and the Cardinals hope to make the most of his surprising second chance.