Besides the inherent drama that comes with a do-or-die Game 7, one of the things that makes such a game so fun in baseball is that virtually everyone is available to contribute.
"All hands on deck," as the popular phrase goes. Every player's help is needed.
This is indicated most by the pitching staff. Starting pitchers who normally wouldn't appear in a game until they've had their regular four days of rest give their teams one to two innings of unexpected relief. Think of Randy Johnson getting the last four outs in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, helping the Arizona Diamondbacks clinch a championship.
Adam Wainwright could provide a major boost out of the bullpen for the Cardinals in Game 7 of the NLCS versus the San Francisco Giants on Monday (Oct. 22). Kyle Lohse has been outstanding in his three postseason starts, allowing a total of four runs in 18.1 innings. But he hasn't made it past the sixth inning in two of those games.
So someone will likely have to be the bridge between Lohse and the Cardinals' late-inning relief corps. St. Louis already has a deep enough bullpen to handle middle relief with Trevor Rosenthal, Marc Rzepczynski and Edward Mujica.
Fernando Salas and rookie Shelby Miller are presumably unavailable after pitching multiple innings in Game 6, but in an all-hands-on-deck situation, they could answer the call as well.
But Wainwright could be the Cards' secret weapon in Game 7. Or maybe it wouldn't be so much of a secret.
Wainwright told reporters, including the New York Daily News' Andy Martino, after St. Louis lost Game 6 to the Giants on Sunday that he would be available to pitch in relief.
That probably surprised no one given the stakes of a Game 7 with a second consecutive trip to the World Series on the line. But Wainwright would be on three days' rest since pitching in Game 4 last Thursday (Oct. 18), so his availability is perfectly reasonable.
Later on, as quoted by Martino, Wainwright asked reporters why he was the one getting all the questions.
"Am I the only guy in here to be interviewed right now," he said, "because I'm trying to figure out why I'm being interviewed."
Martino's point in tweeting that quote was to show how hard the Cardinals had taken the Game 6 loss and were slow to come out and talk to the press. But it's also appropriate that Wainwright was one of the first—if only—St. Louis players to speak with the media about the impending Game 7 because he could end up being the most important figure in its outcome.
Of course, Wainwright's postseason bona fides were mostly established as a reliever during the Cardinals' 2006 World Series run. He appeared in nine playoff games, notching four saves. He allowed no runs and seven hits over 9.2 innings while racking up 15 strikeouts versus two walks.
Wainwright is a key figure in two of the prevailing images from the 2006 postseason and the Cardinals' championship run. In the NLCS, he froze Carlos Beltran on a curveball for a called strike three to win Game 7 over the New York Mets. Then in the World Series, he also got the final out, whiffing Brandon Inge with a nasty slider.
A rookie at the time, Wainwright looked like a definite closer of the future for the Cardinals. But St. Louis, realizing that such an arm would be far more valuable as a starting pitcher, moved him into the rotation, and he's been one of the best in the National League ever since.
But for one game at least (and perhaps more, if the Cardinals win the NLCS and the World Series develops in a similar fashion), Wainwright could go back to those reliever roots and step back into the role that put him on our radar and established him as a future star.
As mentioned above, Wainwright has already faced the Giants once in this series. In Game 4, he held San Francisco to one run and four hits over seven innings, which has been the best performance by any starting pitcher in this series not named Ryan Vogelsong.
Between him and Lohse, St. Louis could get seven to eight excellent innings of pitching, leaving manager Mike Matheny with plenty of options to use in the final one or two innings of Game 7.
Though the Giants appear to have the momentum after winning the past two games of the NLCS and are playing the deciding game in their home ballpark, that train could run into a significant stopper on Monday night. The Cardinals are surely disappointed not to have put San Francisco away already, but a Lohse-Wainwright-Mitchell Boggs-Jason Motte foursome works out pretty well for a series clincher.
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