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Max Scherzer and Adam Wainwright Enjoy Fantasy Football and Trash Talk

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ST. LOUIS — When the universal designated hitter got here to Major League Baseball in 2020, after which was adopted permanently starting this season, loads more was lost than pitchers’ ability to hit. An unintended consequence was that among the finest trash-talking rivalries in sports lost a few of its luster.

Adam Wainwright, 41, the longtime St. Louis Cardinals ace, and Max Scherzer, 38, the Mets ace, have each been exceptional on the mound for over a decade. Each has helped guide their team into the 2022 postseason, which begins Friday. Wainwright, who posted a 3.71 E.R.A. over nearly 192 regular-season innings, is anticipated to be available out of the bullpen to begin the Cardinals’ three-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies, while Scherzer, who had a 2.29 E.R.A. over roughly 145 innings, will start Game 1 against the San Diego Padres.

The 2 pitchers, though, are also expert at getting under one another’s skin. They’ve never been teammates, simply longtime admirers from afar. And there’s a St. Louis connection: Wainwright is in his seventeenth season with the Cardinals and Scherzer is from there, grew up rooting for the team and went to varsity two hours away.

Over a few years, Wainwright and Scherzer haven’t only develop into friends who compare notes about pitching or opponents but are rivals in fantasy football, against one another on the mound and, most fiercely, on the plate. They’re perfect for one another: Wainwright, generally known as Waino, is intense on game days but has a mischievous streak and loves pranks, while Scherzer’s nickname is Mad Max and he loves needling teammates and friends.

So through the days leading as much as a game by which Wainwright and Scherzer would face one another, they might send one another trash talking text messages about who would get the higher of the opposite on the plate — even during spring training.

“We’re two very, very competitive individuals with similar interests and similar likes,” Wainwright said recently. “It form of just comes out naturally.”

Mutual admiration amongst athletes shouldn’t be unusual in sports. Wainwright said he texts on a regular basis with other aces across the game, like Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Justin Verlander of the Houston Astros. But those messages are mostly encouraging. “I’m pumping those guys up loads and people guys pump me up loads,” he added.

There is no such thing as a trash talking with those other aces. “Max and I even have a unique relationship,” Wainwright continued. “It’s form of built around that.”

Told that his relationship with Wainwright was different than Wainwright’s with Verlander or Kershaw, Scherzer smiled and said, “I can see that because I’m the just one who might give you the chance to present it back hard to him.”

Scherzer and Wainwright have some similar achievements: profession wins (Wainwright with 195 and Scherzer with 201), innings (Wainwright with over 2,560 and Scherzer with over 2,680) and so they have each won World Series rings (Wainwright in 2006 and 2011, when he was injured and couldn’t pitch; Scherzer in 2019). Scherzer has a pretty big edge in Cy Young Awards (three vs. zero), All-Star appearances (eight vs. three) and strikeouts (3,193 vs. 2,147).

And, to not be forgotten, on the plate. The 2 have talked about their batting a lot that Scherzer said they’ve one another’s hitting statistics memorized. “I’ll admit it: he’s a extremely good hitter,” he said. “He’s got more power.”

Before the D.H. got here to the N.L., Wainwright hit .193 with 10 homers and 75 R.B.I. while Scherzer hit .168 with one measly home run and 30 R.B.I. But Scherzer has one point of pride: “I had higher numbers off him than he did off me.”

Higher, though, isn’t by much. “He has a knock against me and it drives me crazy,” Wainwright said. Including the postseason, Scherzer went 1 for six with one walk and two strikeouts vs. Wainwright, while Wainwright went 0 for six with 4 strikeouts against Scherzer.

“You may’t bet on baseball so we never had money on the road,” Scherzer said, “but pride was value each penny.”

Given the change in M.L.B. rules, Scherzer said he has missed trash talking over hitting with Wainwright. But thankfully the 2 still have fantasy football. Through his charity, Big League Impact, Wainwright hosts fantasy football leagues and fund-raisers. When he was with the Detroit Tigers and the Washington Nationals, Scherzer held fantasy football events for the charity. The 2 are also in a players-only league.

“I’ve won lots of money from him,” Wainwright said. “It’s been great. It’s been a very good investment for me. The last two years, we now have side bets. We is likely to be playing for our charity but we also side bet. The last couple years have been good to me.”

A number of years ago, Scherzer’s fantasy football team scored probably the most variety of points. The donated prize was a custom-made handgun, which was value almost $5,000, Wainwright said. However the two had side wagers going and Wainwright said he had won more in them than the worth of the gun. So Wainwright asked Scherzer to present him the gun to call it even. Wainwright, a self-proclaimed gun guy, said it was a straightforward trade because Scherzer didn’t want the gun anyway.

“So I had it engraved: ‘This pistol was won in a bet with Max Scherzer in 2020 and is hereby named Mad Max,’” Wainwright said. “I sent him the image of Mad Max and it was value all yr playing simply to give you the chance to send that picture and having him go, ‘You son of a gun.’”

Asked later about Wainwright’s needling with the engraved gun, Scherzer set free a hearty laugh and said he loved the taunting.

Scherzer declined to share the contents of his trash talking texts with Wainwright. He said Wainwright was “good” at it but noted that it will likely be higher if the 2 were ever on the identical team. “I’ve seen among the stuff he does to teammates and it’s really, really good,” Scherzer said, alluding to Wainwright’s infamous pranks.

(Skip Schumaker, the previous Cardinals player and current bench coach who has been on the receiving end of many Wainwright pranks and has fought back together with his own, said he and Wainwright used to goad one another via text in the event that they got the higher of one another as opponents. They still disagree over a called third strike and “it’s been forwards and backwards for eight years.”)

Wainwright commended Scherzer’s banter. “He form of leads you into it,” he said. “That’s how he is of course. You’re on the verge of talking trash on a regular basis when it’s between me and him. It’s really form of a riot.”

The 2 have serious conversations, too. Wainwright said they began talking on the phone over eight years ago. And if Wainwright was about to face a team or hitter in Scherzer’s division, or vice versa, one has called or texted the opposite to share thoughts.

“Pitching, we respect one another on the mound,” Scherzer said. But off it, that they had time to tease one another in between starts.

“It just comes with the territory of being a starting pitcher,” Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong said. “Those guys have gotten nothing else to do but chirp and talk concerning the game. Waino has a bunch of father jokes because he doesn’t use profanity. I’d say he’s form of just like the G-rated version but he’s fun. He’s definitely got that charm.”

Unlike his longtime Cardinals teammates, first baseman Albert Pujols and catcher Yadier Molina, Wainwright has not announced his retirement for the tip of this season. Until some September struggles and a period of dead arm, he had been excellent and helped St. Louis earn its fourth straight playoff berth. Within the postseason, he has a profession 2.83 E.R.A. over 114⅓ innings.

Scherzer handled a number of injuries this season and has two years left on the record three-year, $130 million contract he signed with the Mets last off-season. On and off the sphere, he helped transform the Mets and led them to their first postseason trip since 2016.

To ensure that Wainwright and Scherzer to fulfill in October, they face tough roads. The Cardinals, winners of the N.L. Central, would wish to get past the Phillies after which defending World Series champion Atlanta, which earned a bye to the division series. The Mets, the highest N.L. wild-card team, would wish to get through the Padres after which the Dodgers, which had the very best record in M.L.B. and earned the opposite N.L. first-round bye.

Fear not: Whether or not they face off on the diamond or not, the fantasy football season has many weeks left.

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