But by not needing to turn to Wainwright for a second time against the Dodgers for a Game 7, the Cards have an ace in their pocket for Game 1 of the World Series. Though St. Louis has not yet officially lined up its rotation, it's likely that the Cardinals will turn to Wainwright, who is 2-1 with a 1.57 ERA this postseason, to open the Fall Classic.
"I don't know, I told them if we have enough time off, they might try to get Michael [Wacha] back for Game 1, you never know," Wainwright said, somewhat jokingly after Wacha's Friday night gem that led the Cards to a 9-0 NLCS-clinching win. "No, I'm fired up. I'm excited. I can't wait to pitch against a very tough team, whoever it is. Detroit or Boston, they're going to be a great opponent, so it will be a tough challenge. I look forward to game planning for it, that's one of my favorite things to do."
Wacha, the NLCS MVP Award winner, would be rested enough to be a Game 1 option, but he seems a natural fit to slide behind Wainwright to start Game 2. Both of those games will be played in the city of the American League champ. Lining Wainwright and Wacha up as such would allow the pair to return for the if-necessary Games 5 and 6, too.
While Wainwright is still the staff ace, Wacha has been the October sensation. Since closing the regular season with 8 2/3 no-hit innings, the 22-year-old rookie has pitched 21 postseason innings in which he limited the Pirates and Dodgers to one run and eight hits.
"I think we just don't talk about it much, because we don't want it to change," manager Mike Matheny said. "We want to see it a few more times, a couple at least. We just want him to think that this is normal and this is expected. But in all honesty, if a guy has the ability to perform at that level, he's been able to perform at that level in this kind of environment, he shouldn't have another level of expectation for himself. He should expect that. That's where he is right now."
Assuming the Cardinals lead with Wainwright and Wacha, they have flexibility in who they choose to follow. Joe Kelly, who took the ball first in the NLCS, would be plenty rested to get the Game 3 start. Lance Lynn would be an option, too.
Shelby Miller remains another starting possibility, though his inactivity this month could be a concern. The Cards have assigned him to the bullpen since the start of the playoffs and like what he can offer as a multiple-innings reliever.
So as the Cardinals wait, they also rest. And the benefits of that made celebrating on Friday night even sweeter.
"Usually we clinch this thing in the last second, don't we?" Wainwright quipped. "But we won the Game 6 [of the NLCS] in 2011, so maybe that's a good way to do it."