ST. LOUIS • The pitch Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright called “one of the worst of all time, by the way” had a protective purpose behind it.
He would rather throw wild than wound his catcher.
In the fourth inning of his first start of the season, Wainwright uncorked a pitch so wild that it bounced to the first-base side of the field, a little more than halfway between he and catcher Yadier Molina. The pitch looked more like a ceremonial first-pitch gone awry – perhaps thrown by a rapper or a mayor, just as examples – and not one delivered during a game. However, the motive behind the pitch was safety. Wainwright spotted Molina moving to a place that made him vulnerable for the pitch he was about to see – as if the catcher was expecting a curveball and there, in Wainwright’s grip, was a fastball.
“I saw him shift outside and I was looking at a different part of the plate,” Wainwright explained after the Cardinals’ 2-1 loss to the Cubs. “When I saw that, instantly – and I saw it before – I thought he was looking for a breaking ball and I had fastball grip. I did not want to throw a ball and hit him in the collarbone or something and have Yadier out. I pull-hooked it and erred on the side of not hitting him – by 20, 30 yards.”
The inning was the only inning the Cubs scored against him, and the wild pitch did not factor into the Cubs’ rally. As the first run of the game scored, a throw not made to third base allowed Willson Contreras to advance safely. That put him close enough for Javier Baez to drop a safety squeeze. Wainwright fielded and flipped the bunt, but it was too late to catcher Contreras and the Cubs went ahead 2-0.
With two runners on base, Wainwright was ahead 0-2 against his opposite, Cubs righthander Jake Arrieta. Already during the game, Wainwright and Molina had several conversations near the mound. One was likely prompted by a runner at second base, and word spread through the Cardinals infielders about a change in the signs.
The battery got crossed up again in the fourth.
As Wainwright uncoiled from his delivery he saw Molina shift outside, and with no time to pause or stop, the righthander held onto the ball – spiking it. (See: video. Please excuse the soundtrack.)
“In that spot, I know I’m 0-2 on the pitcher,” Wainwright said. “Even though he’s a good hitter I feel like I can get him. It’s going to be a wild pitch. I’d rather have a wild pitch and second and third with a 1-2 count and one out than have Yadier on a stretcher.”
Two runners advanced on the wild pitch, but Wainwright did not allow either another 90 feet. He spiked a curveball (on purpose) in front of the plate to get Arrieta swinging for the second out of the fourth inning. Wainwright then got 2-2 on center fielder Albert Almora Jr. before striking out the No. 9 hitter. Wainwright had six outs and allowed the two runs on three hits in his five innings of work.
After the wild pitch, Wainwright and Molina talked. The pitcher assured him he was fine. The catcher offered him a suggestion if he saw the same shift again.
“He told me next time just throw it, and he’ll catch it,” Wainwright said. “He’s probably one of the only people in the world who could catch that. No reason to risk it.”