10/27/06 3:23 AM ET
Wainwright not fazed on big stage
After yielding tying run, rookie closer regains composure
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
So let's help him.
He's 25 and the father of a daughter born Sept. 10. He has a gem of a wife who wakes up to the little girl's late-night hunger pangs. He has four pitches, two of high-Major League quality and two that are even better. He has a job many want, as bullpen closer, yet he might be even better qualified to start.
The problem with the young and talented is they believe they have options, even though sometimes they really don't. More importantly, they don't even need the options they believe they have.
The score was tied, 4-4, in the eighth inning. With the Tigers' Curtis Granderson batting with a full count and a man at second, Wainwright was one pitch away from ending the frame but also a pitch from possibly falling behind. The Busch Stadium crowd screamed for the young pitcher, and the situation screamed for him to throw the curveball that has been dominant throughout the postseason.
But Wainwright shut out all the noise. Asked if there was any idea in his mind of going with any other pitch, Wainwright answered, "Sure there was."
It's always nice to see young men make the right decision. Wainwright delivered the curve and left the red-clad fans intoxicated with delirium off the frozen Granderson. Like Cliff Floyd and Carlos Beltran when Wainwright closed out the Cards' Game 7 victory in the National League Championship Series, Granderson stood totally unable to swing as the pitch dropped in for a strike.
"I'm confident that I can throw that pitch for a strike," Wainwright said. "I said I'm going to throw a good curveball in the bottom of the zone, and if he gets a base hit, I'll tip my hat. More oftentimes than not, if I execute my pitches, I'll be OK."
Like last year's World Series champion White Sox who named rookie Bobby Jenks as closer in late August, the Cardinals are more than OK with a rookie leading their 'pen. Wainwright, who made the team as a reliever because there wasn't a starting job for him, didn't get the ninth inning until after Jason Isringhausen was shelved with a hip injury in late September.
Actually, rookies helped lead Thursday's victory even before manager Tony La Russa went to Wainwright, who gave up a Brandon Inge RBI double to tie the game with one out in the eighth before retiring the final five batters, the first three of those on strikeouts.
When starter Jeff Suppan left after six innings with a 3-2 deficit, Josh Kinney retired two of the three men he faced in the seventh, and fellow rookie Tyler Johnson forced a Sean Casey fly ball to right to end the frame with a runner at second.
Veteran Braden Looper gave up an Ivan Rodriguez leadoff double in the eighth, with the Cards leading, 4-3, and turned the ball over to Wainwright with one out and a runner at third.
Inge jumped on a first-pitch fastball that Wainwright regretted immediately.
"It wasn't a bad pitch -- it was down and way -- but probably too good a pitch," Wainwright said.
Wainwright can beat hitters with his fastball, and on some nights it's his best pitch. But when the curve is working, he doesn't ever have to risk being beaten with a "get-me-over" fastball.
"I told him early in the year, 'I don't think you understand what a luxury that is,'" Looper said. "You don't see that very often coming out of the bullpen. He can throw it for strikes, and throw it in the dirt when he wants to."
Wainwright dispensed with Alexis Gomez in four pitches. With Granderson up and battling him to a full count, the curve was the right pitch. If he'd missed, he'd have faced Craig Monroe with men at first and second, meaning the Cards had plenty of options in the event of a ground ball. But Wainwright didn't miss.
Isringhausen, with the bullpen as a wounded adviser, cheered along with the crowd.
"He's never had to do that in a World Series, and to not lose your composure and do what he's doing, it says a lot about his composure," Isringhausen said.
Before the Series began, Wainwright sidestepped a question about whether he wanted to move back to a starting role, but he has started his whole life. However, at the start of the year he pushed that thought aside.
"The first day I made the team," he said, "I said, 'You know what? I'm a big-leaguer now. And I'm a reliever.' A big-league reliever is better than a Minor League starter. My role, obviously, has increased as the season has gone on. I'm having a blast doing what I'm doing."
Who needs another option?
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.