CHICAGO • Although they clinched a berth in the playoffs before the first pitch of Sunday’s game, the Cardinals have kept a cork in their celebration. They are imposing a stay on the spray of champagne until they clinch a division title.
They made an exception Monday.
In the clubhouse after an 8-0 dousing of the Chicago Cubs, catcher A.J. Pierzynski presented Adam Wainwright with a bottle of Vintage 2003 Dom Perignon, a gift for his 20th win of the season. At the ace’s urging, the Cardinals passed around plastic, 3-ounce cups, and Wainwright asked catcher Yadier Molina to do the honors of opening the bottle.
Matt Holliday delivered the toast. Wainwright became the first of this generation of Cardinals to win 20 games for a second season, and the moment carried both historic and immediate weight.
“I hope he realizes how special that is,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “He’s in a very elite group. You look at the rich tradition of this organization and the pitchers who have come through here and had long careers and (were) not been able to do that. You cannot help but celebrate accomplishments like that. …
“He’s right where we need him to be.”
• CARDS CHAT: Derrick Goold at 10 a.m.
Wainwright (20-9) continued his September revival and rev toward October with seven shutout innings, holding the Cubs to one hit through his first 6 2/3 innings of work. After slogging through some dogged days of August, where his pitches felt awry, Wainwright has won all five of his starts this month. He’s allowed one or fewer runs in four consecutive games, and he’s pitched 33 of the possible 36 innings.
He became the second player in the National League this season to reach 20 wins, joining Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw, and matched a career high set in 2010.
Right where the Cardinals need him to be is where he thought he’d get all along.
Hindsight is 20.
“In a way I knew that if I kept grinding, kept battling, kept battling, kept battling, things would fall into place and I would start pitching better ball,” said Wainwright, whose ERA has dropped from a season-high 2.69 to 2.38 in four starts. “That’s what happened. I was patient. I didn’t start panicking. I stay with the plan. I kept firing and hoping.”
Center fielder Jon Jay contributed a running catch in left-center field and three RBIs to Wainwright’s win. Matt Adams came back from the flu to double, score a run, and drive in two as the Cardinals kept ahead of Pittsburgh in the National League Central standings.
The Pirates (85-71) remained 2½ games behind the Cards (88-69) with a 1-0 victory in Atlanta. The Cardinals’ win moved their magic number to four to win the division title and avoid the NL’s wild-card playoff game.
Matheny has said several times over the past few days that the team intends to delay any celebration until the division title is clinched, by them or the Pirates. At that point, the boxes of champagne can come out and the ceremonial popping will happen.
The Cardinals often select one player to open the first bottle, and the honor has gravity. Carlos Beltran opened the first bottle after winning the pennant last year because it assured his first World Series appearance.
Almost a decade ago, infielder Abraham Nunez opened the first bottle for clinching a division title because of his contribution to the team. This will be Molina’s eighth trip to the postseason in his career — and, though it wasn’t a clincher, Wainwright handed him the 20th-win bottle for his first pop, he said.
“It’s a great moment,” Molina said. “I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything.”
With the second 20-win season of his career, Wainwright has achieved something his mentor Chris Carpenter didn’t and his forefathers as staff ace Matt Morris and Bob Forsch didn’t, either.
Wainwright is the first Cardinals’ starter with two 20-win seasons for the club since Joaquin Andujar had back-to-back 20-win years in the 1980s. Andujar and Bob Gibson are the only Cardinals with multiple 20-win seasons in the past seven decades. Wainwright joined the presumptive Cy Young Award-winner Kershaw and the immortal Bartolo Colon as the only active players with more than one 20-win season.
He is the only active NL Central pitcher with a single 20-win season.
Both his 20s have come at Wrigley.
Wainwright said his pitches didn’t have the “same juice” as his previous start, a shutout against Milwaukee, but he was able to toy with his off-speed pitches against the eager Cubs.
Wainwright struck out eight and didn’t allow a runner to reach second base from the second through two outs into the seventh. The Cardinals’ completed the team’s 22nd shutout of the season, but 10 of them — including Wainwright’s last one — have come as a 1-0 or 2-0 win. The offense gave Wainwright some breathing room early Monday.
Cubs lefty Travis Wood had five of his eight strike outs from the first 10 batters he faced, but the Cardinals bruised him the second time through the order.
Rookie Randal Grichuk ignited a four-run fourth inning with a leadoff single, and the next three batters reached base with hits. Jhonny Peralta lashed an RBI double past a diving left fielder, and Jay amplified the inning with a two-run single. Matt Carpenter and Adams rejoined the lineup after spending two days with a stomach virus. They weren’t even at the park on Saturday as the club sent them home to rest.
Both struck out against Wood (8-13) in their first two at-bats. Then they joined the fun. Carpenter started the fifth with a walk, and Adams punctuated the rally with a two-run single that put the Cardinals ahead 7-0. Adams doubled and scored in the eighth.
“There is still some aftermath going on,” Adams said. “But it’s a lot better.”
The Cardinals’ rotation is set to give Wainwright one more start this season, a crack at a career-high 21 wins. He is the scheduled starter for the season finale Sunday, in Arizona.
The playoff schedule allows for him to start that day and get a standard, four-day rest before Game 1 of a National League division series. If they need the win to clinch the title they covet, he’ll start. If the champagne already has been poured, they’ll weigh rest vs. No. 21.
“I like Game 1 of the NLDS better,” Wainwright said. “I would like to go ahead and clinch this division so we would have a fun decision to make. I’ll be ready in five days either way.”
20 wins for Waino
Adam Wainwright’s 20th win makes him among a rare group of Cardinals players to win 20 games in multiple seasons for the Birds. Only three have done so since 1950, and six since 1930. A look:
|Pitcher||Years he won 20|
|Adam Wainwright||2010, ’14|
|Bob Gibson||1965-66, ’68-70|
|Howie Pollet||1946, ’49|