ST. LOUIS — Adam Wainwright sprinted to the mound for the ninth inning, sending a message that he had plenty left. He pretended not to notice when the bullpen got busy, and he avoided eye contact with manager Mike Matheny.
Without saying a word, the St. Louis Cardinals ace told them all to stand down, he had this one.
“To pitch a game like that was one of the highlights of my baseball life, no doubt,” Wainwright said after throwing a complete game to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-1 on Wednesday night and put the Cardinals in the NL Championship Series for the third straight season.
“These are the moments that starting pitchers live for.”
David Freese’s two-run homer in the second inning off rookie Gerrit Cole was all Wainwright needed. The right-hander also had won Game 1 and allowed one run in 16 innings in two dominant outings against the Pirates.
The Cardinals are 8-1 when facing postseason elimination the past three years, and they get to stay at home to open the NLCS against the well-rested Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night.
“It’s going to be a blast,” Freese said. “It’s going to be fun, St. Louis and L.A. going at it.”
Wainwright was motivated for Game 5, mindful that he’d put the Cardinals in an early 6-0 hole at Washington last October and needed the offense to pick him up. He struck out Pedro Alvarez with two men on to end the complete game that he’d said was a goal.
“I didn’t want to see him come out of that game, and he wasn’t coming out,” Matheny said. “It made everybody in the whole stadium’s hair stand on end because you could see he wanted that ball worse than anything in the world.”