PITTSBURGH — The Cardinals had lost nine of 10 Saturday road games wearing the so-called “Victory Blue” uniforms made popular by the 1982 World Series champion club. But Adam Wainwright hadn’t pitched in any of those games — he started and lost on the Saturday in Mexico when the Cardinals hadn’t packed the blues — so he did not feel any of the stigma attached to the garb.
“I like these uniforms,” said Wainwright.
Everyone who had talked about burning them probably had a little different slant, too, after Saturday night’s game. Wainwright held the Pittsburgh Pirates to one run over seven innings and doubled to start a four-run third as the Cardinals beat the Pirates for the seventh time in eight meetings at PNC Park, 10-1.
Marcell Ozuna, who had been two for 35, emerged from that downward cycle by lining a three-run homer to cap the third-inning rally as the Cardinals won their 80th game. They have 20 games remaining to get to the 90-victory plateau, which well could be enough to capture the title in a National League Central Division.
But Wainwright said he didn’t think 90 was enough. “Ninety sounds good but we’ve missed the playoffs with 90 before (actually they haven’t in Wainwright’s time here),” he said.
“ I’d prefer we play one game at a time but I’d prefer winning more than that. We play the Cubs and the Brewers. So, if we lose 10 times, some of those losses are going to be to them.”
Over his last two games, Wainwright has given up just one run over 14 innings and has walked only one batter.
Pitching coach Mike Maddux said, “He’s controlling the counts, controlling the strike zone, getting after people, believing in himself. It looks like vintage Waino.
“He is leading from the front. He’s leading by example,” said Maddux.
Wainwright had several missions he wanted to accomplish. The obvious was to help put his team in an even better position in the playoff hunt, which he did as Milwaukee walked off the Cubs to leave the North Siders 3 ½ games behind the Cardinals. It is the Cardinals’ largest lead of the season and the Brewers' victory was celebrated loudly by the players watching TV in the clubhouse.
“But today was about bucking the trends,” said Wainwright. “Personal challenges.”
For one, his earned run average at PNC Park for his career was a whopping 5.77. And there hadn’t been any bad luck. He had given up 62 runs, all of them earned, in 96 2/3 innings here.
Besides, he wanted to defend the honor of the “Victory Blues,” for which he had lobbied, unsuccessfully, a season or two ago to be the Sunday uniform at home.
“They say the Cardinals don’t win in the ‘baby blues,’ and that Waino doesn’t pitch well in Pittsburgh,” said Wainwright. “Those were the two thoughts I went into the game today with, trying to prove them wrong. After the last game, the players were talking about burning them and stuff. They’re too pretty a uniform to do that.
“Every time I took the mound for the next inning, I had a personal vendetta against this stadium. I was not going to let them beat me today. And I had a personal vendetta against those blue uniforms. We were going to win in those uniforms.”
Manager Mike Shildt, who has been supporting the blues and pooh-poohing the record, smiled and said, “Let it go, man. You’re the one making it a stigma.”
Wainwright smacked his third-inning double to deep left center, one of his two hits for the night. He had been hitting only .125 and said, “This year has been pathetic (offensively).”
The 38-year-old then was waved home with nobody out on Dexter Fowler’s single to center.
“It happens all the time,” joked Wainwright. “Pop (third-base coach Pop Warner) saw the speed obviously that I had and sent me home.”
With runners ultimately at second and third, the Pirates chose not to walk Ozuna intentionally even though next batter Paul DeJong was a .218 hitter with men in scoring position. It cost them three runs as Ozuna smacked his 26th of the season to right center.
“My timing was off a little bit and then I’d do a little too much and swing at a bad pitch,” Ozuna said of his recent travails. “Today I just got into my routine.”
Wainwright had some defensive help.
Right fielder Fowler threw out Bryan Reynolds at second base in the first inning as Reynolds tried to make a double out of a single. The original call was safe but the Cardinals challenged successfully.
Second baseman Kolten Wong dashed behind the mound to claim Elias Diaz’s roller in the fourth. Shortstop DeJong started a nifty double play. Third baseman Tommy Edman made a good play for reliever Junior Fernandez later.
Wainwright got his second hit of the night in the eighth and then unwittingly assisted in a force play. With Wainwright running from first, first baseman Josh Bell fielded Wong’s grounder and fired toward second. The ball hit Wainwright in the upper back but caromed to shortstop Kevin Newman, who caught the ball at the bag for a forceout.
“I’d never seen that before,” Wainwright said. “I can’t believe (Newman) caught that.”
The Cardinals are 36-18 (.667) since the All-Star break when they were dead-even at 44-44 and seemingly stuck in neutral. Wainwright said, “We kept telling people that we had a team here that . . . could make a deep run in the playoffs and maybe win the World Series, and we just weren’t performing — from the pitching side or the hitting side of it. And now we kind of are. That’s what we’ve been expecting all year.”
Wainwright held up a sign in the seventh inning with the name on it of the late Chris Duncan, a 2006 World Series champion teammate of Wainwright’s, when the players and fans participated in the “Stand Up to Cancer,” ceremony. Duncan died of brain cancer on Friday.
“Chris was such a great teammate and good friend,” said Wainwright. “That unfortunately was my third teammate (Josh Hancock, Oscar Taveras, Duncan) that’s passed away and fourth Cardinal (Darryl Kile) since 2002.
“Chris was a special person. Everybody that knew Chris was better because of it. He lit up a room. You always knew when he was in the room because he usually was telling some kind of crazy story and everybody wanted to hear it.
“He’s one of the greatest, if not the greatest, storyteller I’ve ever met.””
The Cardinals, meanwhile, are writing their own story, with the ending to be determined. There will be only one more appearance of the “Victory Blues,” some two weekends now in Chicago, where the Cardinals are 0-6 so far. Despite their burgeoning lead, they likely will have to win one or two of those four games to have their best chance to win their first division title since 2015.