Each day newspapers carry a list of transactions, the comings and goings of usually marginal ball players, mostly spare parts, called up for a cup of coffee, returned to the minors for one reason or another.
That pattern was shattered the other day when buried among the otherwise anonymous names was the news that the St. Louis Cardinals had agreed to a one-year contract with RHP Adam Wainwright.
He’s still throwing after all these years. Still fooling hitters with that hellacious curve ball. Still thriving in a Cardinals uniform.
Wainwright will be 41 next season, senior citizen status for most players but not for him He will be in his 17th season, coming off a 17-win campaign in which he helped the Cardinals to the playoffs for the 10th time.
Consider the numbers: He was 17-7 with a 3.35 earned run average this season in 32 starts and 206.1 innings. He earned the start in the win-or-else wild card game against the Los Angeles Dodgers because he is the Cardinals most dependable pitcher. The veteran right hander gave the Cardinals 5.1 innings of one run ball in last night’s Wild Card loss to the Dodgers.
Wainwright is equipped with a full arsenal of pitches. There is a fastball that moves, a cutter, a changeup and the curveball that has bedeviled batters for what seems an eternity. And each of them is liable to arrive in a different location at any given moment, leaving batters befuddled.
He treats his craft as a science, a challenge to outsmart hitters. It’s one thing to crank up a 100-mph fastball. That’s power, not pitching. It’s quite another to toy with a hitter, keep him guessing about what comes next and where in the zone it will arrive. That’s Wainwright’s approach.
So while others might consider it a problem to face the same team and the same hitters three or four times in a season or a game, Wainwright relishes the challenge that brings. Let others leave after twice through the batting order. He’ll stick around and dare you to figure him out.
There was a time in September, with the Cardinals in the middle of a 17-game winning streak, that opponents were hitting .227 against Wainwright in his first two times through the batting order and .188 in the third and fourth.
In an era when complete games are an anomaly, he had three, pushing his career total to 27, the leader among active pitchers. And that word defines him best: Pitcher.
That’s why he showed up in the transactions the other day, signed on for another year of fooling hitters and winning games.