Wainwright: Bounce-back 'very special'

BOSTON -- “The Cardinal Way” is an 86-page handbook handed out to young players upon their entry into the St. Louis Cardinals organization as a way to go about their new professional lives.

Within its pages are the expectations each Cardinals player is expected to meet while part of the franchise. However, within the Cardinals clubhouse, there is no need for a handbook to show players how to act.

St. Louis has Adam Wainwright for that.

“I’ll tell you, there couldn’t be a better ace for a club,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of his World Series Game 1 starter. “[These young guys] should be grateful that they have the example of Adam Wainwright to lead this club.”

In a pitching staff comprised of three regular starters under the age of 26, the 32-year-old Wainwright serves as a mentor to the younger guys. Pitchers speak of how the first time they met the two-time All-Star, he approached them first, introducing himself with a handshake.

“I want these young guys to know they can come to me at any time with anything,” Wainwright said.

Despite poor results last season, Wainwright earned the utmost respect from his peers by pitching his way back from Tommy John surgery that ended his 2011 season in spring training. The right-hander posted a career-worst 3.94 ERA during the 2011 regular season before going 1-0 in three postseason starts. His last start came in Game 4 of the NLCS, the last game St. Louis won before being eliminated by losing three straight to the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

In that game, Wainwright threw seven innings of one-run ball. And even if the Cardinals could have won one more game afterward to push them to consecutive World Series appearances, Wainwright might not have been able to take the mound again.

“If I’m being honest, after Game 4 of the NLCS I may have had one more start in me,” Wainwright said. “I was pretty well spent, I gave every single thing I had.”

“The fastball wasn’t fast, the changeup wasn’t changing, the slider wasn’t sliding. The only thing I had was my curveball.”

A year later, and Wainwright is lined up to make his first career World Series start Wednesday night against the Boston Red Sox. The veteran has everything back to vintage form: The fastball has been fast, the changeup is changing, the slider is sliding, the curveball continues to be a weapon and Wainwright has gone 2-1 with a 2.10 ERA in three postseason starts. He was 19-9 in the regular season with a 2.94 ERA.

“To be able to pitch like I did this year and return to form, my stuff came back and my ability that I knew was there returned,” Wainwright said. “To be able to have some big-time playoff moments this year, it’s been very special. Something I’ll never forget.”

When the Cardinals last won it all in 2011, Wainwright was only an injured spectator, doubting that he would ever be able to be the pitcher he was before his injury. On Wednesday night, Wainwright will take the mound for St. Louis, arguably a better pitcher than the one he was before his injury.

And, win or lose, another chapter will be written in “The Cardinal Way.”