The Cardinals beat the Pirates last night. They pitched better and they hit better. St. Louis didn’t play better defense but it doesn’t really matter because even the best defense can’t stop a ball from going 15 rows deep into the outfield bleachers.

The Cards pitched better, needing just one pitcher to do so: Adam Wainwright. He pitched a complete game, dominating the Pirates with his curveball and other pitches that aren’t his curveball. His curve is the best in the business and he threw the living crap out of it. He’s pretty good, this Wainwright.

Before the game, I highlighted the ways in which Wainwright might attack the Pirates best hitter, Andrew McCutchen. Cutch has some success against the Cards ace, thanks in no small part to Wainwright’s repeated failure to make his best pitches when faced with the Pirates biggest offensive threat.

Last night, Wainwright made no mistakes against McCutchen. The one consistent thread from their previous encounters was Wainwright leaving pitches on the inside half. With his season on the line, Waino made good pitches and held McCutchen at bay.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

His ability to execute against McCutchen is a microcosm of his night on the whole, not to mention his postseason career. Adam Wainwright now has a 57/7 strikeout to walk ratio in 48.2 postseason innings with an ERA a hair over 2.00. He was the closer on the 2006 champion Cardinals and is now, in the absence of Chris Carpenter, the veteran upon whom the young Cardinals lean.

Some of Wainwright’s postgame comments in a televised interview were downright human and refreshingly honest. Even a big game pitcher and proven commodity like Wainwright isn’t immune to the magnitude of the moment.

“I wanted it bad. It’s probably the most nervous I’ve ever been,” Wainwright told reporters after the game. “I don’t get a whole lot of nerves when I pitch. Before I pitched today, I was pretty nervous.”

Nervous? He certainly didn’t show it. 14 swinging strikes among his 107 pitches while inducing 13 ground balls. If not for a bit of bad luck (three straight routine grounders which turned into hits and produced the Pirates lone run) and Wainwright’s start would look even better.

As it stands, Wainwright pitched 16 innings against the Pirates in the NLDS, allowing 11 hits, one walk and two runs while striking out 15. He’s really, really good! There really isn’t much else to say about it.

Before the postseason began, I stated that process doesn’t really matter – just win. That’s it. Adam Wainwright was a wonderful match of form and function last night. He was dominant, which is a great way to ensure your team has a chance to win.

And win they did. Wainwright went the distance and now waits for his chance to take on the Dodgers, possibly in Game Three of the NLCS. Which also suggests he could be in line for a potential Game Seven start, should the need arise. I can’t think of a better man for the job.

Zagging on the Pirates

Is it just me or have the Pirates received a few too many patronizing pats on the head from baseball writers and watchers over the past twelve hours? As though they had no expectation or hope to be in this situation so they should be happy for the experience. I’m as guilty of it as anybody but the Pirates are not a charity case.

MLB: NLDS-Pittsburgh Pirates at St. Louis Cardinals

They were one win away from eliminating the mighty Cardinals. They feature a formidable pitching staff, excellent defense and enough offense to win 94 games. They earned their way into the playoffs. You’d think they earned some respect along the way.

Their astute front office was not just happy to be there. The players were not just happy to be there. They wanted to win because they think, quite rightly, they are good enough to win the World Series. The Cardinals were the better team last night and that’s why they’re moving on.

The future is bright and most fans will counter any disappointment with the rare feeling of joy after so many years of frustration. But the players don’t care about the recent history. You think anybody other than Neil Walker remembers anything about Sid Bream? How many guys on the current roster can say they remember watching Barry Bonds in a Pirates uniform?

They’re professionals. Their disappointment is very real. They’re a very good team with a bright future. Let’s try not to undercut their achievement with dismissively faint praise by reminding them they should just be happy to be there. They organization isn’t happy to be there. They wanted it all. They don’t hope to be back here next year. They expect to be back next year. Let’s stop treating them like newborn giraffes, struggling to find their legs.