PITTSBURGH -- Amid the series of warmup pitches he threw on the PNC Park bullpen mound Wednesday afternoon, Adam Wainwright allowed himself a few moments to reflect. After spending months convincing others of what he already believed -- that he would return to pitch in 2015 -- Wainwright knew his time was about to come.
When it did, some 159 days after sustaining an Achilles injury that doctors forecasted would take nine to 12 months to heal, Wainwright jogged in from the bullpen to cap his improbable return. His eighth-inning appearance for the Cardinals meant little to the outcome of an 8-2 Pirates win. But it meant everything to everyone who had watched Wainwright do the unthinkable.
"It felt amazing to be back out there," Wainwright said after the 15-pitch inning. "There was a lot of work that went into me getting back out there. … It was just a great feeling. I have been telling y'all I was going to pitch this year, and when y'all asked, I tried to be truthful. And I did."
The significance of the moment wasn't lost in either dugout. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said he "actually caught [himself] clapping for him when he came running out of the bullpen." On the Cardinals' side, manager Mike Matheny left his spot in the dugout to shake Wainwright's hand as he came down the steps.
"Who thought he was going to be back?" Matheny said. "How many people told him that he wouldn't? That says a lot about his character, about his drive. What he brings to this team is a big deal."
Wainwright opened his first relief appearance since the 2006 World Series by freezing Francisco Cervelli on a 94-mph fastball. Jason Heyward made a diving catch for the inning's second out before a Josh Harrison double and a Gregory Polanco seeing-eye single padded the Pirates' lead. The inning ended with a groundout.
Wainwright tested the command of four different pitches -- his four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, cutter and curveball -- in the frame. He was pleased with his feel for each.
"It was fine," said Wainwright, who made 221 regular-season starts in between bullpen outings. "I have a little tightening up to do, but other than a couple inches here or there, I'm happy where I am. My arm feels great and is recovering well. … I'm right there. I'm very happy with my stuff. I just have to continue to go out there and get outs."
Wainwright will not be available out of the bullpen in Game 2 of Wednesday's doubleheader, and the Cardinals don't plan to have him throw on back-to-back days before the postseason. Wainwright may pitch as many as two times during the team's upcoming series in Atlanta, and Matheny suggested that next outing will likely come in a higher-leverage spot.
"It is another one of our pillars being added to the mix," Matheny said. "There were a lot of guys telling him as he was coming off the field what an incredible accomplishment to be back here with any kind of stuff, let alone good stuff. That's a step forward."