This story is excerpted from John Denton’s Cardinals Beat newsletter. To read the entire newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
In St. Louis, where the Cardinals have won a National League-most 11 World Series titles, the most memorable seasons usually involve Clydesdale horses beating Busch Stadium during the World Series, unlikely October heroes emerging and parades streaming up Market Street in the heart of the center.
However, there are always a few exceptions. About 25 years ago, Mark McGwire made fans forget the Cardinals’ 83-79 record with an all-time home run duel with Sammy Sosa. And just last year, St. Louis swept out of the playoffs in two games by the underdog Phillies. But that season will always be remembered for the return of Albert Pujols, his ability to conjure greatness out of the relatively small, two-tone bat once again and steamroll his way to 703 career home runs.
Their NL record-tying streak of 15 consecutive winning seasons ended this year. St. Louis were heavy favorites to win the NL Central, but were the first team eliminated from the division race. Monday was also day 132 of a possible 167 in which the Cards woke up in last place in their division, needing a strong finish to avoid finishing there for the first time in 33 years.
Could 42-year-old pitcher Adam Wainwright — one of the most skilled and beloved players in franchise history — soften some of the sting of spinning the famous curveball on his Monday enough to earn the 200th win of his career? Could a historic victory by Wainwright over the rival Brewers at Busch Stadium serve as the lasting memory of 2023? Those closest to the Cardinals right-hander are certainly happy to see him make history again.
“I can’t wait,” said manager Oliver Marmol, who admitted he handled his bullpen in Sunday’s 6-5 win over the Phillies with Wainwright’s Monday start in mind, knowing he likely will need as many available arms as possible for to close out. a potential win number 200. “I’m hoping to get a lead (on Wainwright) and be able to close it out.”
Wainwright, who announced 2023 will be his final season, set the stage for Monday’s potentially historic start by finally snapping an 11-start winless streak in Baltimore last Tuesday. Early in the season, as fans wished him luck in his pursuit of 200 wins, Wainwright would scoff and think to himself, “‘If I only win five games, it’s a lousy season;’ Sure, I can do better than that,” he recalled recently.As it turned out, many of Wainwright’s struggles this season have mirrored the Cardinals.
For Wainwright’s teammates, it would mean everything to them to honor his legacy, reigning NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt candidly admitted.
“Every time he takes the mound, as a teammate, you always want to make sure your game is at the same level,” Goldschmidt said. “It was always like that when Yadi (Molina) caught. You don’t want to do anything to let those guys down. I think that mindset speaks to Waino’s competitiveness. Whether he’s struggled or had bad games, he still finds a way to get another out or go an extra inning Knowing what kind of teammate he is, how hard he competes, and how he prepares, you always want to make sure your game is on par with his .
“There are many ways to lead, but the way he does it is perhaps the most impactful,” Goldschmidt added. “Without saying anything, without speaking at all, he always had a way of raising the game for the people around him.”