- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
ST. LOUIS -- Oh sure, Adam Wainwright would rather have been on the field in 2011 doing what he loves to do. But he explained on Saturday that while he has always loved baseball, he sort of renewed his vows with the sport that summer as he went through his long recovery from reconstructive elbow surgery.
When the Cardinals were on the road, Wainwright and his wife, Jenny, structured their days around watching the team play, and enjoyed it so much that Jenny told Adam that when his playing days are over, she wants to get the television package that enables them to see all the major league games.
But for Wainwright, that year of watching everybody else play had a practical impact on how he thinks on the mound and how he pitches. He had always had very good command, but since he's come back, his control has been historically great because of a philosophical change that he adopted in his time of reflection.
Wainwright takes the mound for the Cardinals on "Sunday Night Baseball" (8 ET, ESPN) against the Texas Rangers, with more wins (10) this season than walks allowed.
“It's a matter of making an intentional, solid choice to go out there to go out and attack hitters,” said Wainwright.
Wainwright grew up in Georgia and liked watching Russ Ortiz pitch. Ortiz was a battler, never giving in, never throwing meatball fastballs in hitters' counts; it's a very passive-aggressive way of pitching, and it served Ortiz well in his career.
“In my mind, it was great that he never gave in,” said Wainwright. “When he got into a big spot, he knew who was on deck, and he never gave in.”
“What that did for me was put more emphasis on the pitch I was throwing,” he said. “I made less mistakes that way. Now I can attack hitters more than I ever have.”
That 2011 season, he said, he realized how much he loved baseball when he had it taken from him. So when he and Jenny watched games together, he was an active viewer -- keeping a spiral notebook by his side, jotting down notes and thoughts about what he saw.
“I wanted to know what made pitchers great,” he said. “I wanted to know what made Carp great, what made Cliff Lee great, what made Roy Halladay great. On the other hand, what could I do better that could take my game to the next level?”
It's happened. Wainwright is in the midst of the best season of his career, with a 2.37 ERA, the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in his career (a staggering 11.11, which, if he carries it out over the full season, will be the greatest of all time) and a more efficient approach.
Wainwright's pitches per inning
Buster Olney looks in-depth at why Adam Wainwright has been so successful this season. He also looks closely at Tigers starter Max Scherzer's development.