Adam Wainwright worked through the regular season with the type of momentum that had him fast-tracked as a favorite for the National League Cy Young Award. He had been even better in the postseason, with a 2-1 record and 1.57 earned run average.
With a sparkling 19-9 record and 219 strikeouts in the regular season, Wainwright was the ideal candidate to take the mound for the Cardinals against Boston’s Jon Lester in Game 1 of the World Series Wednesday night at Fenway Park.
Yet after two innings, Wainwright already had thrown a taxing 60 pitches. He last pitched in a Game 3 loss to the Dodgers in the NLCS, and his eight days of rest seemed all but wasted. He ended up lasting just five innings Wednesday night, taking another loss as the Red Sox raced to an 8-1 victory.
From the moment he threw his first pitch to leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury, a cutter that missed high and away, Wainwright appeared out of rhythm.
He walked Ellsbury and got Shane Victorino to line out, but he gave up a single to Dustin Pedroia. David Ortiz then grounded to second baseman Matt Carpenter, who flipped the ball to shortstop Pete Kozma.
Kozma lost the handle, and Pedroia was initially ruled out. But the umpires convened and the call was overturned, leaving the bases loaded. Mike Napoli followed with a three-run double, giving the Red Sox a lead they never relinquished.
Perhaps the long layoff did more harm than good for Wainwright, who struggled to find the zone early.
“I felt very out of synch tonight, unfortunately,” Wainwright said. “It’s something usually I can make adjustments on the fly a lot quicker than I was able to tonight. It’s pretty disappointing to do that on this stage.”
Wainwright’s troubles snowballed at the start of the second inning, when he let a Stephen Drew popup fall in front of the mound. He had waved off catcher Yadier Molina, then hesitated to make the catch. Then David Ross singled, and with runners on first and second, Kozma booted Shane Victorino’s ground ball to load the bases. After a Pedroia single and an Ortiz sacrifice fly that would have been a grand slam if not for a fine catch by Carlos Beltran, Boston added two more runs for a 5-0 lead.
“That’s my ball, I called it and I waited for someone else to take charge and that’s not how you play baseball,” Wainwright said of letting the popup drop. “Completely my error.”
Wainwright eventually settled in and threw just 35 pitches over the next three innings, retiring the side in the third and fourth innings.
But the damage was already done, and after a scoreless fifth inning, his night was finished. It was his shortest outing since going just two innings Aug. 28.
Throughout the postseason, the Red Sox have been lauded for their patience at the plate and ability to wear down pitchers.
But Wainwright faulted himself, not the Red Sox approach, for driving up his pitch count.
“It was difficult from the first pitch on,” said Wainwright. “I didn’t make it real tough on them. I threw a lot of balls out of the zone, no contest pitches, and a lot pitches up for them to hit. Kind of a perfect storm of pitching.”
The Cardinals will send rookie Michael Wacha to the mound Thursday night, and Wainwright is confident his team can play well enough to get to Game 5 – his next start.
Wainwright took one positive from his shaky outing: he hardly showed the Red Sox his best pitching, the type that had flummoxed hitters up until now.
“Next time will be different,” Wainwright said. “I’m very confident in this team to get me back the ball again. The good thing about this start was I didn’t show them everything I had.
“Everything I threw tonight was pretty garbage.”