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Wait, so was he good or bad?

It was a peculiar night at Busch Stadium on Monday, as Cardinals legend Adam Wainwright returned to mound and got through five innings (good!), but allowed four runs in the first three (yikes!), but bounced back (good!), which gives hope but, man, there sure were a bunch of barreled balls in the third (scary!).

The answer, it appears, is he was at least good enough. Manager Mike Shildt said Wainwright will get another start — and probably in the pivotal upcoming Dodgers series. No. 50 did just enough to buy himself another start. But is what we have here a pick-their-poison? Is it St. Louis saying a just-good-enough-Adam is better than roll-of-the-dice Tyson Ross?

I just keep coming back to Monday’s third inning. Five hits including a homer. I think about the Los Angeles Dodgers, who entered Monday tied for the league-lead in slugging. This was the Pittsburgh Pirates, a sub-.500 team also playing without their best hitter, the injured Gregory Polanco and his 23 homers and .499 slugging percentage.

Wainwright found a way to survive the third — and nicely navigate through the fourth and fifth. Does that happen against a stouter offense?

Well, we’ll find out.

Here’s the thing about “Waino” — he’s clever and crafty and the Cards’ offense seems to just galvanize when he starts. Check this out — since the beginning of 2016, the Cards are 39-22 in games he starts. Again, that’s 39-22. Yet he has just 27 quality starts in those 61 starts — and a 4.80 ERA.

After Monday’s game, there seemed to be so much positivity coming out of the Cards’ clubhouse. Winning will do that to a team, and indeed, the Cards came back and won 8-7. One wonders how the confidence about Waino would’ve sounded if the Birds had lost ? Instead, the storyline was that he kept them in the game to come back and win.

You could almost hear a little I-told-you-so in the postgame voices of Waino and Shildt.

Asked about his emotions in the dugout following the third inning — and the Cards down, 4-0 — Wainwright said: “The same as the first three. My job is to go out and make pitches. I know I put a couple runners on base and gave up a big home run there — and gave up a couple balls in the middle of the plate and they hit the ball hard. I knew all I had to do was go back and execute pitches. That’s the key to the game.

“(Pitching coach Mike Maddux) came over to me and said, ‘Remember you’re a great pitch-maker. You don’t have to reach back and get more. Just make pitches. Just execute.’ That is when I’m at the best, that’s always my game, executing pitches. Keeping the ball out of the middle of the plate.”

As for Ross, a starter when acquired midseason, he has a 2.21 earned-run average in 20  1/3 innings for the Cards. He does have a higher FIP (fielding independent pitching) at 4.09. But that alone isn’t even that bad. And he’s done most everything you’ve asked of him. It’s like, what else can he show?

Opponents hit just .186 against the Cards’ Ross. Of course, there’s a curveball — not Waino’s. I’m talking about the $200,000 the Cards have to pay Ross for each start he makes.

It also comes down to — who would you rather trust? The Cards are betting on their guy here. Not that Ross isn’t “their guy,” but it’s Adam Wainwright — or “it’s Aaaaadam Waaainwright,” as Shildt has said before, elongating the legend’s name in reverence.

So they’ll go with Wainwright having to out-think and out-moxie the opposition with his curveball and off-speed stuff.

Ross hasn’t started since August 12. Come to think of it, it’s not like Ross did that bad in that start, his lone one for the Cardinals. The former San Diego starter went six innings then against Kansas City. He allowed just two runs and only walked two, while allowing four hits and striking out four.

As for Ross’ role going forward, Shildt said, “it’ll be similar to what you’re seeing,” in reference to pitching multiple innings out of the bullpen in a row. “He does have some good numbers. That’s a valuable spot, and that’s a spot that not everybody can handle. Being ready, being on go and he’s clearly demonstrated the ability to do that. He’s got a terrific mindset for it and the weapons when he’s got the opportunity. So I think you’ll see more of the same for Tyson. Again, on a given day, it can shorten. But right now, you’ll see a similar role.”

Monday’s crowd at Busch — 33,566 —was pretty paltry.

On one hand, it was a Monday against the Pirates and school is back in session; on the other hand, the Cards are in a pennant race and it’s Waino pitching for the first time in months.

As he walked in from bullpen, the fans behind the dugout stood and applauded. And when John Ulett announced the starting lineup, you could hear it in the PA man’s voice as he paused to pronounce: “Aaaaadam Wain-wright.”

And then, when Ulett announced “Here comes the Cardinals,” the Cards starter zipped out to the mound, as he’s wont to do, but it sure was an energizing image.

And of course, early on, Waino made the baseballs do some dirty things. The third pitch to Starling Martre was a sterling strike, a 75 miles-per-hour curveball, like the old days. And later in the start, before things got out of hand, he notched his 1,600th career strikeout. That led to another standing ovation.

But the third inning was bad — and could’ve been worse.

Luckily, he “Benjamin Button’d” in the fourth and fifth innings, getting the six outs in a nifty and swift 21 pitches.

Maybe he’ll “Benjamin Button” the rest of this season, being more youthful as the calendar flips and flips again? That would make for one of the greatest stories in this storied franchise — Waino leading the Birds to the postseason.

But at this point, I’ll only take it one start at a time. And for the fans, here’s hoping that he can pitch himself out of jams against the Dodgers and Brewers and Cubs like he did against the Pirates.

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Benjamin Hochman

@hochman on Twitter


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