MINNEAPOLIS -- The guy who first stepped onto the national stage by nailing down the last three outs in the 2006 World Series is getting a chance to start an All-Star Game. It's safe to say that Adam Wainwright won't take the honor for granted.
"Aside from having the ability to win two World Series with St. Louis Cardinals, this has to be one of the highlights of my baseball career to this point," Wainwright said Monday. "It's one of the coolest things I can ever say I did -- to say I started a big league All-Star Game. I'm incredibly happy, fortunate to be placed in this situation. I can't wait to go out and hopefully lead our National League squad to a victory."
Wainwright, acquired by the Cardinals from the Braves when he was 22, studied behind Chris Carpenter at the start of his St. Louis career. He has emerged as the same type of staff leader, and this season, he has improved on his stats from 2013, when he was the runner-up in the NL Cy Young Award voting and led the Redbirds to a pennant.
"It's obvious [Wainwright] is a high-caliber pitcher who I believe, in some degree, has never been given the amount of respect that he is due," said Mike Matheny, the Cards' skipper who's helming the NL team and who chose his own ace over Clayton Kershaw and others. "I'm honored to be able to put this title on him and watch what he does, not just with this, but the rest of our season."
Wainwright is 12-4 with a 1.83 ERA in 19 starts this season. But in terms of style points, his performance has been overshadowed in some ways by Kershaw's 2014 resume, which includes a 15-strikeout no-hitter (and near perfect game) against the Rockies on June 18 and a streak of 41 consecutive scoreless innings. Kershaw is 11-2 with a 1.78 ERA, despite missing time on the disabled list.
"I would like to thank [Kershaw] for taking six weeks off and allowing me to do this," Wainwright said, laughing. "No, he and I are good friends."
Wainwright said Matheny told him on Sunday that he would be the starting pitcher.
"Tough decison, there's no question about it," Matheny said. "We've seen a lot of Clayton, and it's not just narrowed down to those two. There are quite a few guys who could absolutely be considered.
"I have the utmost respect for Clayton as well as the others who were options. From what we're able to see on a daily basis on leadership down to the execution -- the day-in, day-out performance of what Adam's able to do -- it is kind of an unfair advantage to the others. The numbers line up."
Matheny was asked if he would have chosen Wainwright over Kershaw if he wasn't with Wainwright during the season.
"I believe if the manager wasn't a Dodger, yeah, there was a great opportunity [that Wainwright would be the choice]," Matheny said. "You think making these decisions is cut and dried, black and white, but it never is, because you're impacting people as well as impacting the game. That's something we don't take lightly, but [we] have to be very honest with ourselves. I believe if you trust your heart, trust your gut, you can't go wrong."
Wainwright finished behind Kershaw in NL Cy Young Award voting last season. The Cardinals ace admits that trying to match up to his counterpart on the Dodgers gives him extra drive.
"It really kinds of drives me knowing there's a guy out there who wants it just as much as I want it," Wainwright said. "[Kershaw has] got the talent behind it to back it up.
"[I'm] not saying if he quit tomorrow, I wouldn't continue doing what I'm doing. But when I'm working in the offseason, it allows me to push through. When I'm throwing bullpen [sessions] in the offseason, and I don't feel like working on what I'm working on, it gives me that extra little motivation. If you want to be better than Clayton, this is what you have to do. I like that. I don't like that he keeps beating me in all this stuff, but I do like him pushing me."
Wainwright would have loved to work with Yadier Molina, his St. Louis batterymate, on Tuesday, but the elected NL All-Star starting catcher is sidelined with a ligament tear in his right thumb.
Wainwright is thrilled that the first batter he'll face in Tuesday night's game will be Derek Jeter, as he has never faced Jeter, even in Spring Training.
Wainwright said he will prepare for the All-Star start just like he does all others. That can't be good news for Jeter and the top of the American League batting order.
"I've got to get [Jeter] out," Wainwright said. "That would be pretty cool."
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.