Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina (4) congratulates first baseman Matt… (Elsa / Getty Images )
ST. LOUIS — It was fitting that the St. Louis Cardinals waited for Adam Wainwright before beginning their victory celebration Wednesday.
A bubble of plastic sheeting enveloped their clubhouse and large red tubs filled with ice and countless bottles of champagne stood at the ready in each corner. But in the center of the room the players, standing in a semicircle, waited impatiently for Wainwright to finally burst up the tunnel from the dugout.
It was Wainwright, their ace, who threw the first pitch of their season. It was Wainwright who won their first game of the postseason. And it was Wainwright who closed out a National League division series on Wednesday with a complete-game 6-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
So naturally it fell to Wainwright to get the party started too.
"I don't know what to say right now. I'm at a loss for words," he told his teammates. "I love you guys. I trust in you. I believe in you.
"Let's bring this thing home."
And with that the corks began to fly.
Speeches aside, the Cardinals are getting pretty good at this celebration thing, having reached the league Championship Series each of the last three years. Only the first of those trips ended in a World Series title, however. And if the Cardinals are to improve on that they'll have to get past the Dodgers in a best-of-seven series that begins Friday in St. Louis.
"We'll be looking forward to that," Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny said.
Added third baseman David Freese: "It's going to be a blast. St. Louis and L.A. going at it. Obviously they're a great team.
"You know, it's going to be huge."
Huge also sums up Wainwright's effort, the first postseason complete game by a Cardinal at home since 1987. And the right-hander was dominant, giving up six singles, three of which never left the infield, before tiring with two out in the ninth inning and surrendering two harmless hits.
"To pitch a game like that was one of the highlights of my baseball life, no doubt," said Wainwright, who beat Pittsburgh twice in six days. "These are the kind of moments that starting pitchers live for."
The Pirates made it easy on the Cardinals, scoring only three runs in their three losses. And Starling Marte and Neil Walker, the top two hitters in their lineup, were a combined one for 38 (.026) in the series.
"Every time we turned around, Wainwright got in the way," Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said.
Freese gave Wainwright the only runs he would need with a two-out, two-run home run against rookie Gerrit Cole in the second.
Then after Cole left for a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning, the Cardinals poured it on, pounding five relievers for four runs and six hits, including a two-run home run by rookie first baseman Matt Adams in the eighth inning.
The only thing left for Wainwright and the Cardinals to do at that point was get the party started.
Surveying the celebration from afar, General Manager John Mozeliak chose to sit it out, searching instead for perspective while trying to avoid a champagne shower. Four times in his six years on the job he has had a team reach the playoffs but has only one ring to show for it.
"Anytime you finish first it's all very special. Each journey has its own ups and downs," he said.
And this journey, he added, is just getting started.
"To me this is just another step," he said. "We have bigger steps ahead."