MILWAUKEE — After taking the mound for the St. Louis Cardinals every fifth day for over 15 years, Adam Wainwright’s time as a starting pitcher has come to an end.
Wainwright will not pitch again this season, manager Oli Marmol said Tuesday afternoon, effectively ending the 42-year-old’s pitching career after 18 major-league seasons. Wainwright had intended to make two more starts, including the final one during the Cardinals’ last homestand. But the aches and pains that plagued Wainwright throughout the season finally wore him down.
“I’m in a really good place,” Wainwright said, smiling. “Mentally, I mean, just no regrets about anything I ever did. No second thoughts of if I’m making the right decision of pitching or retiring. All of that, I’m at peace with all of it, in a spot I’ve never been. I tried to do everything I could. I literally left everything I had out there, for real.”
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) September 19, 2023
That he did. In what proved to be the final start of his career, Wainwright spun seven scoreless innings on Sept. 18 en route to a 1-0 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers to notch his 200th career win. But what makes Wainwright’s final game so remarkable is that it almost didn’t happen. Wainwright arrived at Busch Stadium ahead of his scheduled start last Monday with upper back spasms, combined with discomfort in his lower back stemming from herniated discs. A couple of his ribs weren’t in the right place, so the training staff taped Wainwright’s rib cage in hopes of getting things back in line. But the biggest issue was his shoulder, which has been slowly deteriorating throughout the year. He was in such a worn-down condition that Marmol was told to have a Plan B ready just in case.
The concerns hardly subsided as game time approached. In his pregame bullpen session, Wainwright did not throw a pitch harder than 65 mph. He didn’t land a single curveball. The other pitches weren’t much better.
“It looked like the ball floated out of his hands at times on sinkers and fastballs,” pitching coach Dusty Blake said. “It was by far the most un-Wainwright pregame I’ve seen. When we were coming in from the bullpen, I was concerned how he would get through that first inning.”
But in a performance emblematic of the resilience that propelled his career, Wainwright found a way, one final time.
“When I got out there on the mound, I said to myself, ‘Alright, I know I have to do more than what I just did warming up. This is going to suck, but I think I can do it.’ It was a mental grind out there. I know physically I can get through anything if my mind is in the right spot, and luckily my mind was in the right spot because physically, I was pretty limited.”
Win No. 200 took all of what Wainwright had remaining. The Cardinals skipped his next scheduled start in San Diego and said if he pitched again, it would be in front of the home crowd. But by the end of last weekend, it was clear to both the team and Wainwright that there would not be one more start.
“We waited as long as possible,” Marmol said. “We’ve had a lot of conversations about what’s next and to try to buy him more time. While we were in San Diego, he went out to play catch and the reality is, there is no way he’d be able to go out and throw another inning. He gave every ounce of what was left in that arm in that shutout for No. 200. To walk off the way he did, at home, ending on a curveball, fans on their feet, the ovation after he came out, all of it. There’s just not a better way to go out than the way he just did.”
Adam Wainwright talks about what it was like to record career win #200 in front of the St. Louis fans
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) September 19, 2023
“I knew the day after (No. 200) that it would be very hard for me to ever throw a ball competitively ever again,” Wainwright acknowledged. “Another start would’ve been almost impossible for me. I would’ve found a way, but it would’ve been tough.”
“I wasn’t really sure that it was a good look for me to win 200 games and then cash it in,” he added. “Guys (in the clubhouse) told me that’s not the case, but I was hyper-aware of trying to be a good example. It is more about the name on the front (of the jersey) than the name on the back, and I just didn’t want to just win 200, shut it down and go ‘thanks for everything guys, see you later.’ I really wanted to pitch two more times. Whether people thought that was the right thing or not, I wanted to do it. I am getting paid to be a performer, and I wanted to perform. I take a lot of pride in playing it out.”
Though he won’t pitch, there is a possibility that Wainwright — who has 10 career home runs — will take a final at-bat, something he has been lobbying for since MLB incorporated the designated hitter rule into the National League two years ago.
“There might be batting gloves in his locker right now,” Marmol quipped.
A look back at the memorable moments in Adam Wainwright’s decorated career.
— Bally Sports Midwest (@BallySportsMW) September 18, 2023
Wainwright will remain on the Cardinals’ active roster for the remainder of the year. The team will be back in St. Louis for their last three games of the season, which will serve as a homestand dedicated to Wainwright. He will host a postgame concert featuring three original songs from his upcoming debut country music album on Saturday. On Sunday, the final day of the regular season, the Cardinals will hold a retirement ceremony at Busch Stadium prior to the first pitch. What will follow is an all-but-inevitable enshrinement in the organization’s Hall of Fame.
After 18 seasons — all with St. Louis — Wainwright amassed a 3.53 career ERA, a 44.8 career WAR, 2,202 strikeouts, and of course, exactly 200 wins. He is a staple on the organization’s pitching leaderboards, ranking third in wins behind Bob Gibson (251) and Jesse Haines (210), second in strikeouts (behind Gibson’s 3,117) and sixth in ERA. He departs as one of the most recognizable names in franchise history, as a beloved fan favorite and as one of the most respected players in the game.
“I think everybody is at peace with how this ended,” Marmol said. “I mean, having (Wainwright) walk out of the clubhouse with fans still on their feet, chanting his name, the entire team out in the dugout, it was an emotional, special moment for him. It leaves you feeling pretty good about it. It’s a good way to go out.”
(Photo of Adam Wainwright after win No. 200: Jeff Roberson/Associated Press)