ST. LOUIS — After Saturday’s Wild Card Series loss, with emotions still raw and tears flowing in the Cardinals clubhouse, veteran pitcher Adam Wainwright wasn’t quite ready to contemplate the inevitable.
What will it be like to never catch Yadier Molina again? Also, there’s this: Will Wainwright join retired Cardinals legends Albert Pujols and Molina and never throw one of his signature 12-6 curveballs again?
“Have I thought about it? Well, everyone asks me about it,” Wainwright said in disbelief. “Let’s see what happens. We should know pretty soon if anything happens. If not, it’s been a good run and thank you St. Louis.”
Wainwright, 41, could be forgiven for not being fully ready to contemplate such a monumental decision considering he assumed the Cardinals had plenty of time left in their season. After a year in which he and Molina set the NL/AL record for career starts by battery, Pujols hit a rousing run to and through 700 homers and the Cardinals won the NL Central for the first time in three years, Wainwright noted at St .Louis had a magic playoff run in store.
That might have happened if they hadn’t completely collapsed in Friday’s Game 1 in the ninth inning in a 6-3 loss to the Phillies. Louis had been swept out of the playoffs and the careers of Pujols and Molina ended with an unexpected abruptness .
Wainwright, who has yet to reveal if he plans to return in 2023, admitted he was completely surprised when the season ended on a whimper rather than another magical moment. Returning in 2022 was easy after they won 17-7 with a 3.05 ERA the season before; However, this scenario is much more difficult.
“There was so much magic going on with Albert and Yadi this season and I was just like, ‘We can’t go out like this,'” said Wainwright, who spent the early stages of Game 2 in the bullpen and said he was ready playing in Game 3, the series had gone so far. “What we were planning to do was just too special. With our two boys here and what they brought to the table, I always thought we were going to win.”
Wainwright was accustomed to wins throughout his 18-year career, amassing 195 wins, four top-five finishes in NL Cy Young Award voting and a World Series ring as a closer in 2006. He was injured during the Cardinals’ 2011 World Series championship season. Among active pitchers, Wainwright ranks first in full games (28); fifth in wins (195), strikeouts (2,147) and quality starts (242); and eighth in ERA (3.38).
Miles Mikolas, the unfortunate loser in Saturday’s Game 2, said he had already started to persuade Wainwright to return, stressing: “I’ve already told him, ‘See you in the spring.’ Hopefully not as a coach because he’s a guy who’s just as irreplaceable as Yadi and Albert. You know, when he comes to mind again, he’ll be 100% ready. I hope he makes that choice because I could really use another year of Waino.”
Last season was something of an anomaly, with the 6-foot-7 Wainwright fighting so poorly on the track that he didn’t get a chance to play against the advancing Phillies in the Wild Card Series. That outrage, he said, will play a role in his decision on whether to serve beyond this season – one way or another.
“Well, you never know,” Wainwright said when asked if he’ll be motivated going 11-12 and being passed over in the two playoff games. “Let me tell you this: I don’t like not pitching a playoff series. So you can take it two ways — you can take it because it was a good run, or you can take it as motivation to never let that happen again.
Wainwright spoke earlier in the season about how John Smoltz, one of his childhood heroes growing up in Georgia, “never looked right” after wearing a Cardinals uniform after the Hall of Famer pitcher spent so much of his time career with the Braves. He added he could never imagine wearing another team’s uniform — and perhaps that’s why Wainwright was still in full uniform an hour after the final pitch of Saturday’s loss.
What Wainwright also can’t imagine is playing against a catcher other than Molina, who ended his 19-year career with the Cardinals on Saturday with a hit in his last at-bat. Wainwright and Molina, already the most successful starting battery in MLB history (213 wins), teamed up to set a late-season NL/AL record for durability (328 starts). Their 2,155 innings ranks first in Cardinal history and fourth all-time. Only 412 1/3 of Wainwright’s innings were ever thrown to a catcher other than the outgoing Molina.
So, will Wainwright continue without the player and close friend who has been his personal catcher for the past 18 seasons?
“If it happens, it will never be the same again,” he said frankly. “But if not, the whole time the greatest catcher of all time caught me.”