Wainwright gets starting nod tonight
By Derrick Goold
MINNEAPOLIS -- There was an instant during the announcement Monday that Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright almost mentioned the pitcher he might spend an entire career chasing except for this one time, this one night.
At the 85th All-Star game, Clayton Kershaw will follow him.
"I started to talk about that up there, but this is my moment," Wainwright said. "I think all of America wants to see Clayton start the game. ... I wanted to thank him for taking six weeks off (with an injury) and allowing me to do this."
At least one person in the country did not choose to see the Dodgers' lefty, and that one person was the person who made the decision, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. In charge of the National League roster because the Cardinals are the reigning pennant-winners, Matheny made the choice he had been at least thinking about since spring training, and it came down to the two pitchers he probably expected it would back in spring training. It always seems to be the same two in the NL these days. Wainwright reached the All-Star break with the league lead in wins (12) and the second-best ERA (1.83). Per usual, Wainwright was second to Kershaw (1.78 ERA), who spiced his claim to the start with a no-hitter and a scoreless streak that reached 41 innings before being snapped last week in his final first-half start.
Matheny compared all of the stats and invited outside input before calling Wainwright into his office Sunday morning and telling him the decision. Wainwright will start. The first pitch that retiring Yankees captain Derek Jeter sees tonight when he leads off his last All-Star game will be thrown by Wainwright.
It was only then that Matheny realized how much it meant to Wainwright.
"I start every season thinking there is no way I'm not going to be an All-Star," Wainwright said. "That sounds incredibly cocky, I know. But that's what I expect of myself. But to start the All-Star game is a completely different matter. It's something I never talked about. ... One person a year gets to start for the National League All-Star team in the whole world, and this year that's me."
There is at least one other person who agrees with Matheny's choice.
"If I'm him I'm probably going top pick Adam, too," the LA ace said Monday at a downtown Minneapolis hotel. "He had the best half. He's been the best guy in the game for the first half. I would have loved to get to do it. To me, it would be a pretty easy decision."
Wainwright will be the first Cardinals pitcher to start an All-Star game since Chris Carpenter did at Detroit's Comerica Park in 2005. Tony La Russa, the NL manager that year, selected his ace for the honor coming off a World Series appearance, just as Matheny did this year. Matheny said it's possible that Wainwright will throw only one inning and not two, because as the righty said, "The lighter the load on me, the happier the manager." Wainwright skipped one start in the first half of the season and threw 42 more innings than Kershaw, who missed time with a strained muscle after his opening day start in Australia in late March. That gap and the fact more players voted for Wainwright than Kershaw on their All-Star ballots is reason enough for the Cardinals righty to start. But it's close.
True to how their careers interwined, anything Wainwright did, Kershaw surpassed. A late June run by Kershaw loosened Wainwright's hold on the ERA lead. Wainwright pitched his first career one-hitter in May. Kershaw pitched a no-hitter in June. Wainwright became the first pitcher to allow no runs in nine of his first 18 starts of a season. Kershaw has won eight consecutive decisions and during a dynamic June allowed only four earned runs in 44 innings and struck out 61. Since 2006, only two pitchers in the majors have at least 1,000 innings and an ERA less than 3.00. Wainwright's is 2.98.
Kershaw is the other, at 2.54.
Grantland.com referred to Wainwright as an "elite bridesmaid," and the jockeying between the two this season is a continuation of last year's Cy Young Award voting. Kershaw won. Wainwright was second.
"I don't think either one could do any better than they already do," said Dodgers righty Zack Greinke, a former Cy Young Award winner. "But it is kind of crazy how that happens because you keep putting up amazing years and ... that's how I feel when I start (with Kershaw). There was a game against Colorado when I went eight innings with one (earned run) and it was like, 'Wow, that's as good as I can do.' The next day, he goes eight innings, no runs. It was against St. Louis and I struck out 10 and I gave up one run and I was like, 'Man, that was some good pitching.'
"The next day he strikes out 13 in eight innings."
Wainwright has never been shy about his goals coming into each season. He has insisted that this is the year he'll win a Silver Slugger Award as the best hitter at his position. He chided teammates Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha all spring about being good enough this season to finish second in the Cy Young Award voting -- to him. He does most of it in jest, but the best jokes are laced with the truth. Wainwright has talked before about how he's "done the best he can" and watched Kershaw twice win the award.
Alan Trammell had Cal Ripken Jr. Ted Simmons had Johnny Bench. Palmer had Nicklaus. Pippen had Jordan. Betamax had VHS. Wainwright has Kershaw.
Being second best to one of the best is still elite. The only thing he lacks is better timing.
"It really kind of drives me knowing that there is another guy out there who wants it like I want it," Wainwright said. "He's got the talent behind it to back that up. It allows me when I'm working out in the offseason and I don't want to push through the last set or in my bullpens in the offseason and I don't feel like working on what I know I need to work on, it allows me that little extra motivation. Well, if you want to be better than Clayton this is what you've got to do. I like having that. I don't like that he keeps beating me in all this stuff."