10/3/2013 10:24 P.M. ET
Embracing role of ace, Wainwright deals Game 1 gem
Cards starter adds to lustrous postseason resume with seven masterful innings
By Chad Thornburg / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- Adam Wainwright issued an apology after Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Pirates on Thursday night at Busch Stadium.
Carlos Beltran smashed a big 443-foot homer deep into the right-field stands, but Wainwright felt he diminished the feat by serving up a similarly impressive blast to Pedro Alvarez in the fifth, which traveled just six feet fewer than Beltran's.
As they both were seated in the postgame news conference room, Wainwright gave his All-Star right fielder a pat on the back: "I'm sorry I let him upstage you there, pal."
The solo shot to Alvarez was the lone blemish on an otherwise stellar night for Wainwright, not to be overshadowed by the Cardinals' nine-run offensive outburst -- seven in the third inning alone -- in the dominant 9-1 victory.
Kings of K's
Wainwright hurled 105 pitches over seven innings, allowing just a pair of singles and the homer. He fanned nine batters, which is just one strikeout shy of his October best, and his other 12 outs were all in the infield (11 on the ground, one lineout).
"He was basically getting ahead of a lot of people with his curveball down in the zone, had a lot of swings and misses," said Bucs outfielder Andrew McCutchen, who recorded one of the three hits against Wainwright. "If we were able to let go of that pitch, it might have been a different ballgame. But we were doing it all night tonight. So if we happen to have a Game 5 and face him again, we'll know what to expect."
The home run, a "fluttering" first-pitch changeup to Alvarez, would end up being the lone Pittsburgh score.
"He's a very good mistake hitter," Wainwright said. "I think if I remember how I described it to [pitching coach Derek Lilliquist], it was just a disaster of a pitch to throw there, first pitch especially. He's very good. That's probably one of the better ones I've ever given up."
Wainwright has now held his opponent to one run in four of his five playoff starts, building on his nine scoreless relief appearances as a rookie during the Cards' World Series run in 2006. His only poor October outing came in Game 5 of last year's NLDS versus Washington, when he was knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings.
Division Series dominance
|5.||Adam Wainwright||26 2/3||3.04|
Wainwright entered the game ranked first among all Cardinals NLDS pitchers in strikeouts, extending his total to 37, which is tied for 15th in the Majors with Barry Zito, Mike Hampton and Tim Hudson. His 3.04 ERA in the NLDS is also the fifth best in franchise history (among players with a minimum 10 innings pitched).
"We make no mistake about it, he's our ace. He's the guy that sets the tone and gives the example of how this goes," manager Mike Matheny said. "He wasn't trying to be anything different than he's been all season, and it's been an impressive run for him."
When the Cardinals won their 11th World Series championship in 2011, Chris Carpenter was the signature pitcher throughout. He was 4-0 with a 3.25 ERA in six starts, including three in the World Series. Though Wainwright insists the Cards have several players who could occupy that role, the club will look to its ace for similar success this October.
"I'd love to be that guy," Wainwright said. "Chris Carpenter, if I'm ever compared to him, I'll take it as a huge compliment. It's important to have somebody go out there that you can count on for sure. But I believe we have more than just me out there that can do that."
Chad Thornburg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.