2006 WS Game 5
The first of two iconic moments that Wainwright himself will tell you, he was just lucky to be a part of. All the way back in 2006, and not even a starter yet, baby-faced 24-year-old Adam Wainwright was thrust into what every ballplayer dreams of. An opportunity to clinch a World Series Championship for his team.
Already taking down the mighty Mets in an epic 7-game series and putting his name and his curveball on the map for all the baseball world to see (more on that in a minute), St. Louis and Adam Wainwright had a date with Detroit, and the star-studded Tigers lineup.
Coming into the series the Tigers had won seven in a row and had a full week of rest before the series started. Also, just like the Mets had home-field advantage. They again were the favorites. That didn't seem to matter much to the Cardinals as they jumped out to a quick 1-0 series lead in a Game 1 rout, 7-2. Detroit, behind Kenny Rogers in Game 2, smeared across three runs, battled back, and evened the series 1-1. After that, the Cardinals took advantage of some shotty Detroit defense and timely hits of their own to secure Games 3 & 4 and the opportunity to head into Game 5 just one win away from a championship.
Game 5 seemed to go pretty much St. Louis way all night as well. Behind the soon-to-be World Series MVP David Eckstein, and 8 brilliant innings by starting pitcher Jeff Weaver, St. Louis went into the ninth with a 4-2 lead. This was Wainwright's moment.
Facing the 4-5-6 hitters, Magglio Ordonez, Sean Casey, and Ivan Rodriguez, Wainwright knew the Tigers were not going to go down easy. Facing the first batter, he worked the count full and got Ordonez to ground out 4-3 to second base for one away. That brought up hard-hitting Sean Casey, already with a 2-run HR on the night, stung a ball into the gap of right-center for a one-out double to bring the tying run to the plate in Ivan Rodriguez. "Pudge" was always a threat at the plate, even here in his twilight years he was someone you didn't want to miss your pitch to. Luckily Wainwright, after missing with two pitches away, was able to execute a pitch inside and got a dribbler back to the mound where he pounced, fielded, and threw out Rodriguez at first for out number two. Former Cardinal Placido Polanco then came to the plate representing the final out for Detroit. The nerves must have been getting to young Wainwright because he not only corked a wild pitch advancing the runner on second to third, he also walked Polanco, bringing up Branden Inge and setting up the winning run for Detroit.
Pitching Coach Dave Duncan then came to the mound to have a talk with his young battery in Wainwright and Molina and talk through how to get out #27. Once he disappeared and returned to the dugout, the determined glare of a concentrated Adam Wainwright needed just three pitches. Strike one an offspeed pitch down and away to a swinging Inge. Strike two a breaking ball that dropped in at the last minute to make it 0-2. Then, with one last big breath before his delivery, the then-rookie Adam Wainwright delivered a third straight off-speed pitch to Branden Inge and for the first time since 1982, St. Louis had a World Series winner.