NEW YORK • The awkwardness of how Adam Wainwright’s knee bent when trying to field the ball in the seventh inning was not in the eye of the beholder but in the report from the Cardinals medical staff.
Before his teammates could chuckle at his misstep, they had to take a breath.
“Once I realized he was alright, I was able to make fun of him a little bit,” left fielder Matt Holliday admitted. “Like a baby giraffe.”
Seven innings and 79 pitches into what could have been a second consecutive shutout, Wainwright had to leave Tuesday’s game against the Mets with a hyperextended right knee. While the bullpen clinched a 3-0 victory for the club and a fourth win for Wainwright, the Cardinals’ ace was in the training room testing the strength and range of motion. He had to go through a series of exercises meant to gauge the stability of his knee, and Cardinals officials said the righthander passed each. He was not taken for an additional scan.
The team will have to wait to see how tender or swollen the knee is today before determining whether Wainwright will need more than a couple of days rest. Wainwright insisted that he will make his next scheduled start, Sunday against Pittsburgh.
“My ACL, MCL, UCL, all those LCLs, QCLs, all the CLs are good,” Wainwright said, listing actual and fictional ligaments that could have been damaged in the twist. “It’s one of those (plays) that looks scarier than it actually was. … I expected it to be more painful than it actually was.
“All is good.”
On the mound, Wainwright (4-1) has never been as good, several teammates suggested. Manager Mike Matheny said his ace is “pitching like I’ve never seen him.” Fresh from his shutout of Washington last week, Wainwright buzz-sawed through the Mets’ lineup with his refined and unpredictable array of pitches.
The righty struck out only three Mets, but he was able to minimize their rallies with repeated groundouts and at least one out from four different pitches. Moments after Holliday saved the game by robbing Chris Young of a home run, Wainwright got a key double play on a curveball.
In the fourth inning, he retired the top of the Mets’ order on 12 pitches: Eric Young Jr. grounded out on a changeup. Curtis Granderson whiffed on a curve. David Wright took a sinker for a called strike three.
The National League is on notice.
“I’m more of a complete pitcher right now than I’ve ever been in my career,” Wainwright said. “I control my body, control counts more than I ever have. I’m using all of my stuff.”
Shut out on Tuesday and searching for offense, Matheny moved center fielder Jon Jay up one notch in the lineup and explained that the team “had to capitalize” on his swing. In the fourth inning, Jay gave the Cardinals an at-bat to cling to. Holliday opened the inning against Mets starter Dillon Gee (1-1) with a walk. Matt Adams and Yadier Molina followed with singles to load the bases. Gee got ahead of Jay, 0-2, and appeared to have the center fielder struck out when he fouled off a pitch into catcher Travis d’Arnaud’s glove. The ball escaped. Jay survived.
He connected for a groundball up the middle that scored two runs.
“Just grinding,” Jay said.
“That’s an example of what we’ve done in the past to be successful in those situations,” Matheny expounded. “We had a whole lot more on the table (offensively). I was hoping for a big jolt. Beggars can’t be choosers right now.”
The Cardinals loaded the bases again with no outs in the fourth inning after Jay’s single but couldn’t push home another run. In the eighth, a leadoff single by Holliday yielded nothing and again the Cardinals left the bases loaded. Entering Tuesday’s game, only two teams in the National League had scored fewer runs than the Cardinals, who led the league in runs a year ago. The two runs off Jay’s bat were almost not enough until Holliday’s catch at the wall in the fifth.
Daniel Murphy started the inning with a bunt single against Wainwright. Young followed with a towering fly ball that carried and carried and carried out toward the 358-foot label on the left-field wall. Holliday ran back with it. He was playing shallow but the height of the fly ball gave him enough time to meet it at the wall, jump, and reach over to steal the homer from Young. A home run would have tied the game.
Wainwright said he tried talking to the ball in flight: “Come down. Come down.”
“You instinctively just go back to make the catch,” Holliday said. “Situation like that when one of my best friends is pitching (like that) in a situation where it would have tied the game — that feels pretty good.”
The gulp came two innings later.
On a popup by Young just out of Wainwright’s reach, the righty took an awkward step and slipped because of the “rain-slicked field,” he said. His knee gave way as if he was new to walking; hence, the “baby giraffe” jokes that followed. Adams scooped up the ball and raced for the out to end the inning.
Wainwright was slow to leave the field, purposefully putting more pressure on the knee to try and test it as he left. He admitted that “when nobody was watching” in the dugout he twisted it around for some amateur checking of the ligaments. Just as he did with the fly ball Holliday caught, Wainwright talked to his knee.
All is good. All is good.
The team will know for sure after an evaluation today.
“I’ll be all right,” said Wainwright, whose ERA sank to 1.46. “Just give me a couple days and everything will be all right. At first, you feel a little scared. But as I walked off the field I knew I didn’t do anything wrong.”