Press Box: Wainwright closes career in perfect fashion

Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals performs a short concert for fans after Saturday night’s 15-6 win against the Reds at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. (Associated Press)

Adam Wainwright and the St. Louis Cardinals made the right decision.

A week after Wainwright earned his 200th career win on the mound, the 42-year-old right-hander met with the media after the Cardinals decided to shut him down for the season, rather than have him make one final pitching appearance in this week’s series against the Cincinnati Reds to finish the 2023 season.

Wainwright, who began the season with 195 career victories, took three months to win his 199th game. He got No. 200 on his next start.

In vintage Wainwright fashion, he threw seven shutout innings against the Milwaukee Brewers. As it turns out, he couldn’t allow a run, because the Cardinals had to hold on for a 1-0 victory.

During the seventh inning, St. Louis manager Oli Marmol made a quick trip to the mound. Fans began to boo, fearful Marmol was on his way to pull Wainwright from the game and risk another blown save by the bullpen.

But Marmol returned to the dugout alone, Wainwright escaped the jam, preserved a one-run lead and the bullpen came through in the clutch against the eventual National League Central champions.

Little did we know at the time just how much Wainwright was pitching through pain.

During a media session last Tuesday, it was revealed Wainwright -- who announced before the start of the season his 18th year with the Cardinals would be his last in the MLB -- wouldn’t be pitching again because of multiple injuries.

Cardinals beat writer Katie Woo of The Athletic wrote Wainwright has been dealing with back spasms, herniated discs and even a few misplaced ribs.

The pain was so bad, he never threw a pitch harder than 65 mph during his warmups in the bullpen prior to his milestone win.

Knowing what I know now, I can only imagine that mound visit played out a little bit like the mound visit scene between J.K. Simmons and Kevin Costner in the movie “For Love of the Game.”

“How long’s it been hurting?” Simmons, the manager, asked during that visit.

“About 10 years,” Costner, playing a future Hall of Fame pitcher, replied.

Wainwright, whose career has been summed up by his numerous successes, will also be remembered for numerous injuries.

• He missed the entire 2011 season because of Tommy John surgery.

• He tore his Achilles and missed almost all of the 2015 season

• He had elbow surgery after the 2017 season and only pitched in eight games in 2018.

• He had multiple stints on the injured list this season, mostly from the wear and tear of his long career.

While I understand injuries happen to almost every baseball player, I still say these injuries are the difference between Wainwright being a Cardinals Hall of Famer and a Baseball Hall of Famer.

Wainwright would have won 15-20 games in 2011, and probably another 15 games in 2015 had he not gotten hurt running out of the batter’s box. Had he played injury-free, he could have gotten close to 250 wins, and that surely would get him in the Hall of Fame.

Wainwright’s first memorable moment came in Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series, when he struck out Carlos Beltrán with a perfect 0-2 curveball to strand the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see that pitch live, because I was studying for a test at the library in college.

Yes, that’s how long Wainwright has been a major league pitcher.

When Wainwright threw a perfect pitch to strand the tying run at third base in the seventh, in what turned out to be the final pitch of his career, it was just as perfect.

In a weekend dedicated to him, Wainwright made a pinch-hitting appearance Friday night, grounding out to the second baseman. After Saturday’s game, he brought out a guitar and played a few of his original country songs.

Today will be Wainwright’s official retirement ceremony, and it makes me wonder.

Will we ever see another lifelong Cardinal in my lifetime?

We won’t see another like him. That’s for sure.