ST. LOUIS — From the first pitches he fed to David Ross, Adam Wainwright was setting things up.
An 88-mile-per-hour cutter was followed by a 92-m.p.h. fastball that was intended to plant a seed in the back of Ross’s mind.
If Ross was thinking about the heater, Wainwright figured, there was no way he could hit Wainwright’s curveball.
“That down-and-in curveball is a pitch I’ve thrown all year,” Wainwright said. “After you’ve thrown some hard stuff — maybe even after a fastball in — you throw that bounce curveball inside, it looks like a heater out of the hand and they can’t hit it.”
So with two on and one out in the seventh inning of a tie game and Ross up, Wainwright fired a cutter away for a called strike, came inside with a high fastball and came back with another cutter that Ross was just able to foul out of play.
Wainwright figured he had Ross on the ropes. The hook was coming. Down and in.
When Wainwright let it go, he knew it was veering off, if only slightly.
But he figured it was still good enough to get the job done.
At worst, it would bounce in the dirt and catcher Yadier Molina would would somehow get his gold glove on it.
“I didn’t throw it exactly where I wanted to, but it’s down,” Wainwright said.
The ball never made it to Molina.
Instead, Ross managed to shoot it down the line in left, and all Wainwright could do as he watched the ball skip into the seats for a run-scoring, ground-rule double was shake his head.
It gave the Sox a 2-1 lead and in a game too tight for anyone to inhale, Wainwright knew that was all the breathing room the Red Sox would need.
“It’s not exactly where I wanted to throw it, but it’s below the zone,” Wainwright said. “I had been throwing him hard away all game. Sometimes, as painful as it is, you’ve got to say he did a great job.”
After giving up five runs in five innings in a Game 1 loss, Wainwright was determined to rebound.
For as sharp as he was, striking out 10 over seven innings, he and the Cardinals had to swallow a 3-1 loss that sent them back to Boston for Game 6 facing elimination, down three games to two.
“After the first game, I knew I could pitch much better than that,” Wainwright said. “My delivery was horrible and I made some great adjustments. Going into today, I was very confident I was going to go out and pitch a good game. To be honest with you, I executed my plan all night long. Right there until the end of the seventh inning.”
In the first two innings, Wainwright struck out six of the first eight batters he faced.
The only two he didn’t get were Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz.
Pedroia was able to rope a hanging curveball to left for a one-out double and a scorching-hot Ortiz drove him in with a double of his own.
Before the game, manager Mike Matheny was asked jokingly how big the fine would be if a pitcher threw Ortiz a strike. But the Cardinals had no intentions of giving in.
When he got Ortiz to line out to center in the sixth, Wainwright himself seemed in awe. He stepped off the mound and said to no one in particular, “Wow.” Ortiz had reached base in nine straight at-bats before that going back to Game 3.
But even if it was minimal, with that run-scoring single Ortiz did all the damage he needed to.
“In my mind I can get anyone out and I still believe that,” Wainwright said. “But [Sunday] night, we pitched around him and the guy behind him burned us. So in my mind, what you have to do is don’t compound the inning, and the first inning the last thing I wanted to have out there was several ducks on the pond.
“I made a good, quality pitch outside on the corner. I could have chased it in more, but he could have also popped it up to first. He made a good swing on a good pitch and you tip your hat and go on from there.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.