KANSAS CITY — Sandwiched on a hotel couch between Cardinals stars Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt earlier this week watching a playoff hockey game, veteran pitcher Adam Wainwright got a reminder of how fortunate he’s been throughout his career to be associated so often with winning.
Over his career with the Cardinals, St. Louis has gone to the World Series three times: in 2006, 2011 and 2013. They won in both 2006 and 2011, although Wainwright didn’t play in the 2011 regular season or playoff run after having Tommy John surgery.
In the middle of that hockey game, the conversation between the three Cardinals stars turned to winning a title, and it dawned on Wainwright that he was the only person on the couch with any championship hardware. Then, he noticed how Arenado and Goldschmidt talked of not just wanting to be a part of a title-winning team, but absolutely needing it to feel complete as players. Winning, as Wainwright pointed out, truly is the only thing that matters to ultra-competitive athletes.
“That man has one thing on his mind — winning it all,” recalled Wainwright, referring to Arenado, who had a home run and five RBIs on Wednesday as the Cardinals throttled the Royals, 10-0. “He said, ‘Man, I really want to win this year! I’ve got to have one this year!’
“I looked at [Arenado] and I looked at [Goldschmidt], and I said, ‘Y’all don’t even have [a championship] and you really need one because it’s really fun,’” Wainwright continued. “It hit me, those guys have been playing a long time, and they’re really good and they don’t have a World Series. That’s why they are doing this, and it’s why they came here — because they think we can win here. Anything less than that for us is not good enough. These guys are competitors — and they’re winning players — and they want to hold that trophy.”
Wainwright, 40, furthered the link between himself and winning Wednesday when he teamed with catcher Yadier Molina to equal the mark as one of the winningest starting batteries in the history of baseball. In holding the Royals to one hit and one walk in seven scoreless innings, Wainwright paved the way for he and Molina to notch 202 team wins as a starting battery.
That ties them for first all-time with Warren Spahn and Del Crandall, who also were a part of 202 wins from 1949-63.
Molina, who played despite battling through a non-COVID illness a day earlier, hates talking about numbers and his historical significance in the game. But if the statistics revolve around winning, Molina said he welcomes those conversations.
“Of course, any time you have [records] about wins, that makes you a winning player,” Molina said. “That’s a big deal for us — winning. That’s what we’re about.”
That also describes the mentality of Arenado, who earlier this week was named the National League Player of the Month for April. On Wednesday, Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol put Arenado into the No. 3 spot in the order, and he delivered a three-run home run in the first inning and a two-run single in the seventh.
Arenado was demonstratively excited following the home run that paved the way for a five-run first inning.
“I was just fired up, and it felt good to get some runs early,” Arenado said. “So, I was pumped up to try and get the guys going.”
Wainwright and Molina did the rest in what was their 310th career start together, good for third all-time.
They are within range of Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan’s record of 324 and could get there by the end of this season. Known for years for his big, sweeping curveball, Wainwright’s first spinner of the day slipped out of his hand and went behind the head of Kansas City’s Edward Olivares.
“That’s how I establish my presence with authority,” Wainwright said of the 69.9 mph pitch.
From there, Wainwright got stellar defensive plays behind him from Arenado and Goldschmidt on the first batters of the game, and he made quick work of the Royals the rest of the way. Wainwright said he would have liked to have pitched the eighth and ninth innings for the shutout. But what mattered most, he said again, was the team getting the win. Winning, after all, is what Wainwright and teammates like Arenado, Goldschmidt and Molina are gunning for.
“It’s the most important stat in the game. You have to win games to win a World Series, you have to win games to win a division,” Wainwright said. “Winning is the most important thing. And when I’m still winning games with Yadi after all these years, it just tells you that we’ve been battling together for a long time. That’s what makes this so special — me and him have been together for so long to make this possible.”