SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — One of the things Adam Wainwright promised to give the young starters and wanted from them in return was honesty, and so here was Jack Flaherty, all of two years in the rotation, approaching Wainwright in the dugout this past August about to test that boundary.
He thought Wainwright could be better, pitch with more confidence, and there was no other way to say it than to say it, in person, at Busch Stadium, during a game.
“There was definitely a moment where it’s at that point, do I really say this? Is this really my place? Do I know how he’s going to react?” Flaherty recalled Tuesday. “At that point I have to be ready to expect whatever reaction he has. I’m committed, and I’ll be what I always want to be, honest. He gave me back that look, his look he gets when he’s like, ‘Are you sure?’ It was like, for a moment, ‘Why did I just say that?’”
That look was followed by a nod.
That nod was followed by a month that brought Wainwright back for a year.
The Cardinals and Wainwright, one of the most successful starters in club history, finalized a one-year, $5-million contract for 2020 that, with incentives, can reach $10 million. Wainwright returns for a 17th season in the organization just one year removed from being convinced injury had taken baseball away from him. Wainwright, 38, made 31 starts this past summer, went 14-10 with a 4.19 ERA, and on Tuesday traced his late-season surge for five consecutive wins and two superb postseason starts to a confidence jolt from young Jack.
“He pulled me aside, which takes some (guts) do to that to a 14-year vet and you’re a second-year player, and he said, ‘We need you to be what you can be and I think you can be better than you’ve been, and you need to believe in yourself again,’” Wainwright recalled. “It was kind of like right out of Chris Carpenter’s mouth. It was such a good challenge for me. At first, I wanted to rustle up my feathers and kind of give him a stare down. But I kind looked at him and said, ‘You’re right. You’re exactly right.’”
The contract had been discussed over the past week and completed as Cardinals execs began the first full day of the annual General Manager Meetings. The Cardinals met with Yadier Molina’s agent on Tuesday and learned that the Gold Glove-winning catcher and franchise icon would like to play beyond the end of his contract, in 2020. Molina would like to pursue a contract through 2022. He would turn 40 near the All-Star break of that summer. The Cardinals will explore an extension with Molina in spring training.
Wainwright and Molina, the battery that won a World Series championship as youngsters like Flaherty in 2006, have been together longer than any pitcher-catcher tandem in club history. Wainwright said the only sunsets they’ve discussed sharing are on family vacations to Europe. The righthander sees this contract as possibly his final one — though he’s not committing to a farewell tour in 2020.
“I’m playing it this year at a time,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Wainwright said he only entertained an offer from the Cardinals, but had they signed another starter he would have explored the market for a two-year deal for another team, preferably one he had some connection to. A year ago, Wainwright sought a return to the Cardinals by writing out a proposal on a napkin that became a $2-million base salary with incentives to reach $10 million. He reached all of them.
This year’s deal more than doubles the guaranteed salary and allows him to max-out the contract at $10 million by making 28 starts. He gets bonuses along the way for 20 starts and 25 starts.
It was about 20 or so starts into this past season that Wainwright was able to shed the doubt that had lodged itself in his elbow, like the bone bruise that cost him parts of two seasons.
“When you rear back to fire a baseball toward the catcher’s mitt you can’t have any reservations if you’re going to get all that you can out of your stuff,” Wainwright said. “There was a little part of me early on that was like, ehhhhh, am I really OK? Like, I think I’m OK. I’m telling people I’m OK. But am I really OK? … This year in September and October especially was the first time in three years that I felt like I was a force out on the mound.”
He credited Carpenter and Flaherty with recharging that confidence and rookie Dakota Hudson with “friendly wagers” to goose competition. At several points in the season, Carpenter urged Wainwright to believe in his stuff and not worry it wasn’t enough.
Flaherty urged him to believe in his staff.
That took the same kind of leap from Wainwright that Flaherty had made stepping toward him. As part of his recovery from the bone bruise that cost him velocity and left him with only eight starts in 2018, Wainwright shifted his delivery — a longer arm swing — and re-engineered how he used his pitches. Nearly two out of every five pitches he threw this season were curveballs, and he’s never thrown fewer fastballs in a season than his previous two. In an age of high velocity and high pitches, Wainwright averaged less than 90 mph and relied on sink. John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations, called Wainwright’s reinvention as he reclaimed his health “not only impressive but almost miraculous.”
“There was part of me that when I watch Jordan Hicks and Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson and Miles Mikolas and Carlos Martinez and all these hard-throwers, just pitching really well with nasty, nasty stuff, and there was a small part of me that goes, ‘Man, I can’t do that,’” Wainwright said. “I’m just not that nasty. I don’t throw 98 mph with super sink. I certainly don’t throw 105 like Jordan. And these other guys are just hitting 94-95 with their fastballs. Part of that process for me throughout the season was being OK with being different.”
Wainwright’s return makes it possible for the Cardinals to sport a familiar rotation. The team would like Martinez to take the one open spot in the rotation, and they are monitoring the righthander’s winter program to determine how viable he can be as a starter. Mozeliak said the team will explore the free-agent market for a starter in the coming month and be ready to move on a starter around December’s winter meetings if one is a fit or, due to Martinez’s progress, one is needed. On Tuesday, Mozeliak said there’s always room for improved pitching.
Wainwright provided it when they needed it the most. Before a hiccup in his final start of September, Wainwright was polishing a bid to be the league’s pitcher of the month. In October, he was arguably the Cardinals’ best starter. He pitched 7 2/3 scoreless against Atlanta, and then in the National League Championship Series struck out 11 in seven innings against Washington, the eventual World Series champs.
That crisp sensation of autumn was hard to ignore.
“Feeling those juices flowing like that for the first time in a few years – what an empowering feeling,” Wainwright said. “It was something that I wasn’t quite ready to walk away from.”
50 greatest Cardinals pitchers
HALL OF FAME BASEBALL WRITER RICK HUMMEL MAKES THE PICKS
Manager Mike Shildt's recent declaration that the Cardinals' current roster includes five No. 1-type starting pitchers inspired us to publish Rick Hummel's compilation of the top 50 Cardinals pitchers since the franchise joined the National League in 1892.
This list will exclude the legendary likes of 1888 St. Louis Browns sidearm righthander Charles “Silver” King, a native St. Louisan, who won 45 games and completed 64 of 66 starts, pitching 585 2/3 innings for the American Association team. And it also won’t have righthander Elton “Ice Box" Chamberlain, who had a .719 winning percentage (46-18) for the 1889 St. Louis entry in that league while throwing at least one game with both hands.
But it will include "One Tough Dominican."
Find out where he ranks as we present Hummel's top 50, in descending order, and the franchise's all-time 13-man pitching staff:
50. KYLE LOHSE
STL SEASONS: 2008-12
CREDENTIALS: Led National League in winning percentage at .824 with 16-3 season in 2012.
49. WOODY WILLIAMS
STL SEASONS: 2001-04
CREDENTIALS: Righthander had a .672 winning percentage (45-22), plus three postseason wins.
48. JASON MOTTE
STL SEASONS: 2008-14
CREDENTIALS: Converted catcher led league with 45 saves in 2012 after getting final out of 2011 World Series.
47. MILES MIKOLAS
STL SEASONS: 2018-current
CREDENTIALS: Only one year as a Cardinal, but Mikolas had a brilliant 18-4 season in 2018, leading the National League in winning percentage and tying for most victories. The key: he had fewer walks (29) than starts (32).
46. TOM HENKE
STL SEASONS: 1995
CREDENTIALS: Only one season with the club, but Henke went out with a bang in his final big-league year with 36 saves and a 1.82 ERA.
45. DARRYL KILE
STL SEASONS: 2000-02
CREDENTIALS: Kile, whose career ended tragically when he died in a Chicago hotel room in 2002, won 20 and 16 in his only two full seasons here.
44. CARLOS MARTINEZ
STL SEASONS: 2013-current
CREDENTIALS: He’ll have time to move higher on this list, but almost anybody ranked in the top 50 would take his stuff. He's a two-time All-Star.
43. AL HRABOSKY
STL SEASONS: 1970-77
CREDENTIALS: “Mad Hungarian” started a long line of elite closers with his dominance in the mid-1970s, including 13-3 mark with 22 saves in 1975.
42. MICHAEL WACHA
STL SEASONS: 2013-current
CREDENTIALS: Won four games in 2013 postseason as a rookie, earning MVP award in NLCS. Two years later he was an All-Star within a 17-7 season.
41. TED WILKS
STL SEASONS: 1944-51
CREDENTIALS: Righthander was 51-20 with a 3.26 ERA for Cardinals and was a key pitcher for the 1944 and 1946 World Series champs.
40. JOE HOERNER
STL SEASONS: 1966-69
CREDENTIALS: Lefthanded bullpen ace was big part of NL champs in 1967-68, with a 1.47 ERA in 1968.
39. BOB TEWKSBURY
STL SEASONS: 1989-94
CREDENTIALS: Tewksbury produced five consecutive double-figure win seasons, topped by 16-5 in his All-Star season of 1992.
38. CY YOUNG
STL SEASONS: 1899-1900
CREDENTIALS: Scored only 45 of his 511 wins for the Cardinals over two seasons. But, he’s Cy Young.
37. DENNIS ECKERSLEY
STL SEASONS: 1996-97
CREDENTIALS: "Eck" is a Hall of Famer because of what he did elsewhere but he had 66 saves when he was ages 41 and 42 here.
36. MURRY DICKSON
STL SEASONS: 1942-48; 1956-57
CREDENTIALS: Was 72-54 for Cardinals and pitched in two World Series in 1943 and 1946.
35. FLINT RHEM
STL SEASONS: 1924-32; '34, '36
CREDENTIALS: Righthander was 81-63 for Cardinals, including 20 wins for St. Louis’ first World Series champs in 1926.
34. LINDY MCDANIEL
STL SEASONS: 1955-62
CREDENTIALS: Going from the rotation to the bullpen, he had 66 wins and 66 saves from 1956-62 with four double-figure win years.
33. RED MUNGER
STL SEASONS: 1943-52
CREDENTIALS: Righthander was 74-49 for the Cardinals and pitched a complete-game three-hitter to win a game in the 1946 World Series.
32. CURT SIMMONS
STL SEASONS: 1960-65
CREDENTIALS: Lefthander won 18 games for World Series champions in 1964.
31. RAY SADECKI
STL SEASONS: 1960-66; '75
CREDENTIALS: Southpaw won 20 for ’64 World Series champions. He was good enough to get Orlando Cepeda from the Giants in a 1966 trade.
30. LANCE LYNN
STL SEASONS: 2011-17
CREDENTIALS: Averaged 15 wins a season from 2013-17, with a high of 18 in 2012, his first full season.
29. NELSON BRILES
STL SEASONS: 1965-70
CREDENTIALS: Inserted in the '67 rotation in late July after Bob Gibson suffered a broken leg, Briles was 4-4 at the time and finished with a 14-5 record and the NL's best win percentage. He followed up by winning 19 games for the NL champs in 1968.
28. ERNIE BROGLIO
STL SEASONS: 1959-64
CREDENTIALS: Led National League with 21 wins in 1960. His 18 victories in 1963 made him an attractive enough trade chip to secure Lou Brock the next year. Sore-armed Broglio won seven games in three seasons for the Cubs. Brock wound up in Cooperstown.
27. GERRY STALEY
STL SEASONS: 1947-54
CREDENTIALS: Had 89 Cardinals wins and 19 saves, with five consecutive double-figure win seasons, including 19 in '51 and 18 in '53.
26. BILL HALLAHAN
STL SEASONS: 1925-36
CREDENTIALS: “Wild Bill” won 19 games for the World Series champions in the 1931 regular season and two in the Series when he had an 0.69 ERA.
25. AL BRAZLE
STL SEASONS: 1943, 1946-54
CREDENTIALS: A dual threat, he won 97 games and saved 59 for the Cardinals, unofficially leading the league twice in saves.
24. LARRY JACKSON
STL SEASONS: 1955-62
CREDENTIALS: Was 101-86 for Cardinals with six consecutive seasons of double-figure victories. (True story: In 1957, Jackson became the first Idaho native to make an All-Star roster. To celebrate, Idaho's governor shipped a sack of potatoes to every NL All-Star.)
23. TREVOR ROSENTHAL
STL SEASONS: 2012-17
CREDENTIALS: "Rosey" had back-to-back seasons of 45 and 48 saves before encountering arm trouble and sitting out the 2018 season.
22. LON WARNEKE
STL SEASONS: 1937-42
CREDENTIALS: Righthander had six double-figure-win years in succession, threw a no-hitter in 1941 and had a lifetime .629 winning percentage for the Cardinals.
21. TODD WORRELL
STL SEASONS: 1985-92
CREDENTIALS: Six-foot-five righthander had three successive 30-plus save seasons and won the NL Rookie of the Year award in 1986. Also made eight outfield appearances when Whitey Herzog would bring Worrell into a game to pitch, then send him to the outfield when a lefty reliever was summoned for a lefthanded batter, then bring him back to the mound.
20. JOHN TUDOR
STL SEASONS: 1985-88; 1990
CREDENTIALS: Soft-tossing southpaw had .705 winning percentage and 21 wins, including 10 shutouts for ’85 NL champs. Tudor started that season 1-7, then finished with a 20-1 run.
19. MATT MORRIS
STL SEASONS: 1997-2005
CREDENTIALS: His 101 wins featured a National League-best 22 in the Cardinals' 2001 playoff season. Runner-up for Rookie of the Year in '97 and third in the '01 Cy Young voting.
18. MAX LANIER
STL SEASONS: 1938-46; 1949-51
CREDENTIALS: Lefthander won 101 games for the Cardinals, 20 of them shutouts. Lanier was 6-0 with six complete games in 1946 when he jumped to the Mexican League. He was suspended from playing organized baseball in the U.S. and wasn't reinstated until 1949, when he rejoined the Cardinals.
17. GROVER CLEVELAND ALEXANDER
STL SEASONS: 1926-29
CREDENTIALS: "Ol' Pete" had one of the biggest strikeouts in club history, whiffing Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded in Game 7 of the ’26 Series against the mighty Yankees. Baseball's third-winningest pitcher all-time won 21 games as a 40-year-old and 16 as a 41-year-old for the Cardinals.
16. BILL SHERDEL
STL SEASONS: 1918-1930; 1932
CREDENTIALS: Lefthander was 153-131 for the Cardinals, winning 16 for the 1926 World Series champions and 21 for the '28 NL pennant-winners.
15. BILL DOAK
STL SEASONS: 1913-1924; 1929
CREDENTIALS: “Spittin’ Bill” won 140 games for the Cardinals between 1914-23 and many of those teams were not very good. He had the NL's lowest ERA twice, including a 1.72 mark in '14.
14. STEVE CARLTON
STL SEASONS: 1965-1971
CREDENTIALS: Had five consecutive seasons of 10 or more wins for Cardinals, capped by 20 in 1971. And then he was gone. Owner Gussie Busch traded the future Hall of Famer to the Phillies after a salary dispute over $5,000.
ALL-TIME CARDS STAFF ... STARTING WITH NO. 13: HOWIE POLLET
Since teams often have 13 pitchers on their staffs now, here is a version of the Cardinals’ all-time staff, beginning with Howie Pollet, who ranked No. 13 in our top 50:
STL SEASONS: 1941-43; 1946-51
CREDENTIALS: Lefty had his career interrupted by World War II but returned to win 20 games for the 1946 World Series champs and 21 in 1949. Pollet Led National League in ERA in 1943 (1.75) and in 1946 (2.10). Little-known fact: He was pitching coach for Cardinals’ 1964 World Series champions.
12. BOB FORSCH
STL SEASONS: 1974-88
CREDENTIALS: Ten seasons of 10 or more wins for the Cardinals, including 20 victories in 1977. "Forschie" had two no-hitters and posted 168 victories, third on the Cardinals’ career list. He turned the momentum toward the Cardinals in the 1987 NLCS by drilling “One Flap Down” Jeffrey Leonard with a pitch.
11. BRUCE SUTTER
STL SEASONS: 1981-84
CREDENTIALS: Split-fingered practitioner threw a rare high fastball past Milwaukee’s Gorman Thomas to end the 1982 World Series. His next biggest pitch of that season was getting Phillies’ Mike Schmidt to hit into a 1-2-3 double play with the bases loaded in a pivotal pennant-race game.
10. HARRY BRECHEEN
STL SEASONS: 1940; 1943-52
CREDENTIALS: Little lefthander known as "The Cat" had a 128-79 mark for the Cardinals, highlighted by a 20-win season in 1948. His modest 15-15 record in 1946 can be overlooked because he won three games in the World Series — including Game 6 as a starter and Game 7 as a reliever — with an 0.45 ERA.
9. JOAQUIN ANDUJAR
STL SEASONS: 1981-85
CREDENTIALS: The last Cardinal to win 20 games in successive seasons was “One Tough Dominican” in 1984-85. He was 3-0 in the 1982 postseason as the Cardinals won the World Series. And, if he were still alive, he would remind you of the grand slam he hit in 1984.
8. LEE SMITH
STL SEASONS: 1990-93
CREDENTIALS: Hall of Fame-bound reliever is the only Cardinal to post three consecutive 40-save seasons (1991-93). He's also probably the only Cardinal never to have gray pants in spring training — he did not make any Grapefruit League trips. When asked why he didn’t at least jog in from the bullpen when he was summoned to the mound, Smith responded, “Ever see anybody run in to face Mike Schmidt?”
7. MORT COOPER
STL SEASONS: 1938-45
CREDENTIALS: A big pitcher for his day, the 6-2, 210-pounder was the last Cardinal to win 20 or more games three years in a row, from 1942-44. Cooper recorded a 22-7 mark with a 1.78 ERA and 10 shutouts in the World Series championship year of 1942, when he was the National League MVP. A bitter contract dispute after the 1944 season led to Cooper being traded early in the 1945 season. He finished 105-50 for his Cardinals career.
6. JASON ISRINGHAUSEN
STL SEASONS: 2002-08
CREDENTIALS: "Izzy" is the Cardinals' record-holder at 217 saves, with six seasons of 30 or more saves, including a league-leading 47 in 2004. The Piasa Southwestern High product had 2.98 ERA in St. Louis and also had eight postseason saves, which might have been more if he hadn’t been hurt at the end of the 2006 season.
5. CHRIS CARPENTER
STL SEASONS: 2004-12
CREDENTIALS: If you thought he was good in the regular season, which he was (95-44, .683 win percentage) for the Cardinals, consider that he was 10-4 in 18 postseason starts, featuring a 3-0 mark in two World Series. One wonders what would have happened if he could have back virtually four seasons he was out with injuries.
4. ADAM WAINWRIGHT
STL SEASONS: 2005-current
CREDENTIALS: “Waino” had a remarkable run between 2009-14 (he missed 2011 with elbow injury), winning 20 games twice and also 19 games two times, with the 19-win years including his leading the National League in innings pitched. As a reliever in the 2006 postseason, he recorded four saves. Three of those came as the last outs in the divisional round, the NLCS and the World Series.
3. JESSE 'POP' HAINES
STL SEASONS: 1920-37
CREDENTIALS: His 210 wins for the Cardinals rank second on the all-time list. Haines had 10 seasons of double-figure wins, three of them 20-victory seasons, and he pitched in four World Series — 1926, 1928, 1930 and 1934, when he was 41 years old. Haines’ no-hitter in St. Louis against Boston in 1924 was the last previous Cardinals’ no-hitter in St. Louis before Bob Forsch authored one in 1978. He pitched his first game as a Cincinnati Red in 1918. The next 554 came with the Cardinals.
2. DIZZY DEAN
STL SEASONS: 1930; 1932-37
CREDENTIALS: Had a line drive by Earl Averill in the 1937 All-Star Game not fractured his big toe (“Fractured, hell. The damn thing’s broken,” Dean was quoted as saying), Jay Hanna "Dizzy" Dean might have had another five years like his five between 1932-36. He won 120 games in that span, including 30 in 1934 when he was the last National League pitcher to win that many. He hurt his arm trying to favor the foot and was never the same.
At the end of the 1947 season, he briefly came out of the broadcast booth to pitch four scoreless innings at age 37 for the St. Louis Browns, whose staff he had criticized on the air. But he suffered a hamstring pull running the bases after a single, and afterward said he was thankful the pulled muscle he suffered wasn’t in his mouth.
1. BOB GIBSON
STL SEASONS: 1959-75
CREDENTIALS: So many accomplishments but, excluding the record-shattering 1.12 ERA 50 years ago, the most stunning might have been Gibby's complete-game total. Not only did he have 251 wins, but he had 255 complete games. Gibson produced 14 double-figure win seasons.
His World Series mark was exemplary. In nine starts, three each in 1964, 1967 and 1968, he pitched 81 innings, winning seven of nine games. In one of those games, his first one in 1964, he worked eight innings. In one he worked 10 innings. In the other seven, he pitched nine-inning complete games.