Adam Wainwright has become one of the most respected and prominent pitchers in Major League Baseball. He is the leader of the St. Louis Cardinals on the field and in the clubhouse. He has led the National League in wins twice in his career, won 20 games in a season once and eclipsed 200 innings pitched in a season four separate times.
He has never won on Opening Day.
Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch pointed out the strange anomaly in Wainwright's career when he discussed the arrival of Pat Neshek to the Cardinals' roster:
Reliever Pat Neshek, who has more wins (one) in Cardinals’ opening day games than Wainwright, was the only non-roster player added to the club. Neshek was the winning pitcher for San Diego in the 2011 opener captured by the Padres in 11 innings.
As with most baseball statistics, that statement can be a bit misleading. Wainwright has pitched in eight seasons at the big league level and started 185 regular-season games. He has often found himself as one of the top pitchers on his team. For many years, he was either considered the No. 2 starter or the "co-ace" with Chris Carpenter.
His career path has led him to take the mound just twice on Opening Day in his career.
The first start came in 2009 on April 6. Wainwright has become known for his ability to force hitters to earn their way on base and his stinginess with walks recently. That was not always the case. On this Opening Day, Wainwright lasted just 5.1 innings while walking five hitters and allowing two runs.
Despite the poor stat line, the team was in position to win late in the game when Jason Motte surrendered four runs in the ninth inning, allowing the Pittsburgh Pirates to come from behind and spoil the home opener for the Cardinals.
Wainwright would take his next shot in 2013 in a April 1 tilt with the Arizona Diamondbacks. While he would not walk any hitters this time around, little else went his way. He lasted six innings, giving up 11 hits and four runs (three earned). Those four runs were too much for the Cardinals to overcome as the Diamondbacks went on to win 6-2 in Arizona.
If the third time is truly the charm, Wainwright will accomplish a major career milestone at the same time. The Cardinals ace and leader opens the 2014 season with 99 wins. Earning his first victory on Opening Day would also allow him to become just the sixth Cardinals pitcher to reach triple-digit victories.
Looking ahead into 2014, Wainwright has the ability to climb the leaderboard in career wins as a St. Louis Cardinal. His 99 wins ranks him 16th currently. Should he be successful enough to win at least 15 games in 2014, he would launch himself into 8th place with 114. Climbing any further up the ranks would likely have to wait for subsequent seasons.
Bob Gibson's record 251 wins as a Cardinal seems very safe despite Wainwright's current and projected future success. Wainwright, who will turn 33 later this season, would need to be highly successful over the back end of his career to surpass Gibson.
Wainwright has been establishing himself as a pitcher that is trusted to take the ball in a big-game environment. He has proven to be the leader of the Cardinals.
Now, he needs to show that he can do it on day one.