Adam Wainwright has pitched in big games before, so Sunday won’t be anything out of the ordinary for the longtime St. Louis Cardinals right-hander.
But it’s certainly nothing the 35-year-old will take for granted.
“I knew it would come down to the last day. It always does, it seems like,” Wainwright said Saturday after the Cardinals rallied for a dramatic 4-3 victory over Pittsburgh to keep alive their playoff hopes. “I’ve been here before. In 2014, I was going to start the last game in Arizona, but we clinched ahead of time. I don’t think we’ll have that opportunity (Sunday), so I’m looking forward to the opportunity.
“I’ve pitched the World Series 32, 33 times a year already, so tomorrow’s going to be no different for me. I take every start very, very seriously and prepare for every start the exact same. I’ll be very prepared and ready for tomorrow.”
First pitch against the Pirates is 2:15 p.m. at Busch Stadium.
The Cardinals, who trail the San Francisco Giants by one game for the second NL wild-card berth, must win and have the Giants lose against the Los Angeles Dodgers to force a tiebreaker game against the Giants on Monday at Busch Stadium. The winner of the tiebreaker would face the New York Mets in the wild-card game Wednesday at Citi Field in New York.
Any other scenario spells the end of the Cardinals’ season.
“This is what we live for as competitors,” Wainwright said. “Big starts like this, for me, I’ll remember them for the rest of my life.”
Wainwright (13-9, 4.67 ERA), who will be opposed by Ryan Vogelsong (3-7, 5.00), emphasized that he wouldn’t divert from his usual night-before-a-start routine.
“I do a good bit of preparing the night before,” he said. “I do about an hour and a half the night before watching hitters, watching film. I get all the kids to bed and sort of tuck my wife in and tell her like, ‘See you tomorrow,’ that type of thing. Then I get after it.
“I’m (first) going to have a nice dinner with my family and a couple of teammates. We’ll be ready tomorrow.”
Pittsburgh started rookie Jacob Stallings at catcher Saturday. Stallings, 26, is the son of former Collinsville High basketball star Kevin Stallings, who was the head coach at Illinois State and Vanderbilt before being hired at Pittsburgh in March.
Kevin Stallings, who turned 56 on Saturday, was not at Busch Stadium for the game. Jacob Stallings said his father was hosting a recruit and was unable to attend. Kevin was at Jacob’s first career game June 19 at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
“It’s been great,” Jacob Stallings said of his first taste of the major leagues. “It’s been a big learning experience. Obviously, getting to play in the big leagues for the first time is something I’ll never forget. Getting that first hit, getting a walk-off ... it’s been a pretty cool year.”
Jacob Stallings, a seventh-round draft choice of the Pirates in 2012, was born in Lawrence, Kan., in 1989 when his dad was an assistant coach at Kansas under Roy Williams.
“I know more about his coaching just because I’ve been so invested in it,” Stallings said. “He tells me he was a pretty good player. I’ve heard some stories, for sure. I’ve seen one video of him. He tells me stories about how he was kind of a hothead, but he loved playing and he was always in the gym.”
Jacob played basketball in high school but gravitated toward baseball.
“I started catching in middle school and right when I started catching, I fell in love with baseball,” he said. “I wasn’t quite athletic enough to play basketball at high Division I, so I decided to go with baseball. If I had devoted full-time to basketball, maybe I could have played at a smaller Division I, but I played baseball in the summer and never did any AAU or anything like that. I didn’t give basketball my all.
“Baseball came way harder than basketball, but catching has always come pretty easy to me and it’s something I’ve always really enjoyed. I love basketball; I love playing. But I definitely knew pretty early in high school that my future was in baseball.”
Because Kevin Stallings grew up a Cardinals fan, so was Jacob. The two attended games at Busch Stadium II when they visited the metro-east.
“It’s definitely going to be a great atmosphere,” Stallings said. “it’s a game I’m excited to play in, for sure.”
Stallings played the entire game and was 2-for-4 with a stolen base. He singled with two outs in the ninth to put runners at first and third against Cardinals closer Seung Hwan Oh.
Stallings stole second to put the go-ahead runs in scoring position, but Pedro Florimon flied out softly to left to end the game.