Adam Wainwright and Busch Stadium have a lot of history together, so it's only fitting that they get one last dance in front of a sold out crowd tonight.
When Wainwright takes the mound for the St. Louis Cardinals, the spot should feel familiar. One could call it "Waino's hill". It's the same spot he threw the last pitch of the 2006 season, the field's first, clinching the Cardinals' tenth World Series title. It's the same spot where he has won 78 regular season games, 15 of them where the final pitch was thrown from his right hand. The place where he has struck out 839 batters and pitched 982 innings. It's his favorite spot.
If there is any hope in a Wainwright comeback this season, Busch Stadium should be at the forefront of the argument. I had my doubts before I saw a tweet from dedicated Cards fan, John Rabe.
That's right. While 2016-17 have gone as smooth as a Swedish massage on a person who doesn't like being touched, Wainwright's one constant throughout the trials and tribulations has been a comfort found under The Arch at Busch. Over his career, he sports a 2.83 ERA and 1.148 WHIP over 140 starts, but it's what he's done the past two years that's more eye-catching.
In 2017, Wainwright's 3.03 home ERA drastically opposed his 7.32 ERA away from Busch. Over the past two seasons, Wainwright is 15-5 with an ERA around 3.10 at Busch Stadium. While known as a pitcher's park, the wide space between Wainwright's pitching is truly puzzling, but you know what, it makes tonight interesting.
People have talked about injuries slowing Wainwright, and it works to an extent. Four starts into the 2015 season, Wainwright tore his Achilles tendon and missed the entire year. He had elbow surgery this past winter to clean up some damage in his throwing arm, which could explain a fair drop in velocity. Then again, why was he able to turn it on at home? It makes no sense, but baseball rarely does.
I love great stories that come to life right in front of my eyes, and the Waino novel is entering its final chapter. You give the guy the space to figure out how he ends because of what he's done on the mound he will work from tonight. While his long-time battery partner, Yadier Molina, is holding down the rigors of Father Time, Wainwright himself is wrestling with the realities of age. Still, you give him the space due to his history. He's earned the right to go out on his shield.
It's true, I was angry when Jack Flaherty was sent down yesterday. The kid dazzled in Milwaukee and deserved another look. I vented about it on Twitter in a longer form way than Flaherty did to the media. However, seeing Rabe's tweet and reading Alex Crisafulli's piece on Birds On The Black, I have built up some hope for tonight's game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Sometimes, honor upends the logical in sports. Every voice that's telling you it's a bad idea is defeated by the mere glimpse of nostalgia. The cynic in me is shut down by the baseball fanatic that would love to see Wainwright go out there tonight and fool the D-Backs into thinking they are facing the guy who froze Carlos Beltran a little over 11 years ago. Pitching is a meticulous artform after all, consisting of equal parts skill and deception.
Does Wainwright have a few more tricks up his sleeve? You'll have to bet with your heart and not tell the brain about the transaction. In February, I wrote about being unable to truly believe in a comeback, but let's not worry about late April, May, or June right now. Let's just think about the game at 6:15 p.m. tonight under the lights. After all, that's all Adam Wainwright is thinking about right now. If he's still got it for a few more starts, the young Cards arms can collect more seasoning. If not, they are ready.
An Adam Wainwright comeback is both fiction and nonfiction. His ability to pitch so well at Busch gives you momentary hope, even if the long haul will require some exaggeration in the story.
That's baseball. Like a science fiction novel, you have to suspend reality just enough to believe in a dream sequence.
Prove me wrong, Wainwright. Do it. I double-dare you.