ST. LOUIS — Adam Wainwright was a spectator last fall, cheering on the St. Louis Cardinals from the bench as they rose from wild card to World Series champions.
It’s a lot more fun being part of the action.
“Looking back on it, it really hits me when autograph seekers hand me a ball and it’s a 2011 World Series ball, and then they take it back and say ‘No, No, sign this one instead,’ ” Wainwright said Saturday. “That’s when it hits that I really didn’t get to do a whole lot. This game I get to play is very special to me, and missing that time last year, I really learned how much I love the game.”
Fans in Washington, D.C., anticipating the first baseball postseason appearance for the nation’s capital since 1933, have to feel that way, too.
Wainwright, a 14-game winner in his first year back from elbow reconstruction surgery, successfully fought against restricting his innings and will start today in the NL division series opener.
The Nationals, who led the league with 98 wins, will go with 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez after sitting down Stephen Strasburg in early September.
“There’s so many things that factor into this that you take it with a smile,” Gonzalez said. “It’s the first time ever experiencing this, to represent such a great organization, such a great rotation, great lineup. It’s unbelievable.”
The Nationals have one of the youngest rosters in the major leagues and overcame injuries to regulars Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse and Ian Desmond.
During spring training, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said there would be serious consideration to ending Wainwright’s season after perhaps 180 innings.
About a month into the season, Wainwright convinced the team such restrictions would be unnecessary, and he finished second on the staff with 198⅔ innings.
During the first half of the season, Wainwright was unhappy with his fastball, slider and changeup and pleased with just his curveball.
“I totally get now why Tommy John recovery is so hard,” Wainwright said. “Your arm just takes a while to get back, it really does, and it’s hard for me to say that because I thought I was going to be the exception to the rule.”