Wainwright lives for situations like the one he faced on Tuesday.
After the National League's offense rallied for three runs to take a 3-1 lead in the top of the seventh inning, which proved to be the final margin, National League manager Charlie Manuel summoned Wainwright to face the sixth, seventh and eighth spots in the American League's batting order. Things got a little hairy, but Wainwright never faltered.
Wainwright was coming in the game regardless of whether the AL still led. But when he was handed a two-run lead, and the task of getting the "shutdown" inning, things got a lot more fun for him.
"I told myself I was pitching the ninth inning in a one-run game," Wainwright said. "Nobody was going to score. I think that's the mentality you have to have to go out there and do the best you can. I made it interesting, but I sort of have a flair for the dramatic in those kinds of roles. I've done [that] in the past."
And in a moment that had to inspire at least a little bit of déjà vu among Cardinals fans -- and perhaps Mets fans as well -- Wainwright struck out Angels center fielder Torii Hunter to end a rather scary AL threat. He didn't do it on a curveball, though. He got Hunter on a wicked cutter that dove out of the zone, hearkening not to the 2006 NL Championship Series, but rather to the World Series-ending cutter he threw the Tigers' Brandon Inge.
Wainwright was in the jam in part because of a bizarre play off the glove of teammate Matt Holliday, though in fairness, Holliday also had a key hit in the top of the inning. Wainwright struck out Nick Swisher on a curveball to open the frame, but John Buck was credited with a double to left on a ball that bounced in and out of Holliday's glove. Ian Kinsler walked, setting up a dicey situation for Wainwright with one out. He got Vernon Wells to ground into a force, bringing up Hunter.
The hometown crowd rose to a crescendo, anticipating a big moment from their hero. But Hunter didn't have much chance. He took a curveball for a ball, then another for a strike to go 1-1. From there, Wainwright turned to his cutter, and Hunter chased two out of the zone.
"I was swinging so hard it was unbelievable," Hunter said. "I was a little jumpy. In that situation you want to calm yourself down, but I was too anxious. I was trying to go deep, and Wainwright is a pretty nasty pitcher, and that's why he's one of the best in the game."
Wainwright's usually impressive stuff took on another dimension when he was able to let it go in a single inning of relief. His fastball sat at 96 mph, his curveball was diving, and his cutter in particular picked up some steam. Wainwright normally throws the cutter for a strike or to get a ground ball. But given the short-term assignment of relieving, he was able to let it go and use it as a chase pitch.
"That's what I finished the World Series on, a pitch like that," he said. "Out of the 'pen it seems to be a little harder."
It certainly caught his teammates' eyes.
"On a one-inning deal, he hit 97 [mph], didn't he?" said Cardinals and NL teammate Holliday. "He's usually unhittable at 92. When he's up there with velocity of 96, 97, [look out]."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.