In the end, the embarrassment was worth the celebration.

After months of flailing and failing, Adam Wainwright, 42 years old and showing it, finally captured the 200th win of his MLB career. On Sept. 18th, the Cardinals hurler turned back the clock one final time, baffling the Brewers through seven scoreless with a barrage of curveballs and the guile of a Jedi.

Nobody at Busch Stadium in St. Louis that night cared one bit about Wainwright’s 7.40 season ERA or the worst Cardinals season since 1995. It was an evening of genuine celebration, an opportunity to witness a franchise legend wage one final battle against the inevitabilities of time. None of the 33,176 lucky enough to see sentimentality dodge physics will ever forget it. The home team won 1-0 and Wainwright got the emotional farewell he’d been fighting for all season, a salute capped off by win No. 200.

The Cards legend finishes his career with a foot in two different eras. When he began his two-decade journey, 200 wins was considered phenomenal though not historic, which is the type of pitcher Wainwright was: fabulous, not Cooperstown-bound. But nowadays, 200 is the new 300, which makes Wainwright’s completed journey toward that big round number both a relic of baseball’s past and a harbinger of its future.

One hundred twenty-two pitchers have reached 200 wins in baseball history, but only 60 are Hall of Famers. All five of Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, CC Sabathia, Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke could get in once they’re eligible. By comparison, 25 pitchers have reached the 300-win mark, and 24 of them are in Cooperstown. (Hall of Fame voters didn’t love Roger Clemens’ approach to … self-improvement, so he sits at home, plaque-less, with 354 career wins) 

If 300 used to be a guarantee, then 200 was at least a coin flip, a 50-50 shot at Cooperstown.

Most of the 300-win hurlers come from a bygone era, a time in which starting pitchers were given the ball every few days and left out there for the duration. Four-man rotations, not today’s five-man rotations, were the accepted practice. Bullpens were a place that actual bulls went. If you didn’t work five innings they would send you right to the town square for a public shaming … or something.

That’s a part of what made Wainwright’s push to 200 so unique: The baseball-watching world hasn’t seen a 300-game winner since Randy Johnson reached the mountaintop in June 2009. Kershaw quietly collected his 200th win earlier this year with none of the hoopla in classic Kershaw fashion. Watching a physically depleted Wainwright inch toward the finish was humanizing and enthralling in a backwards way. Kersh has always felt inevitable, Wainwright’s accomplishment this year was anything but.

And while baseball ebbs and flows, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see another 300-game winner. Verlander is the active leader with 256, and definitely cares about getting to 300, but the Astros time-bender would need another four years to sponge up the 44 remaining wins.

In fact, there’s a decent chance that Wainwright is the last 200-game winner we’ll see for a long time. Yankees ace Gerrit Cole is at 144. Another four years of superb performance should get him to 200, but there are no guarantees in pitching. It is a pursuit full of injuries, canyon-sized potholes and ligament-munching monsters behind every turn.

After Cole, it’s a mishmash of shoulder shrugs and “I dunnos.” This year’s presumptive AL Cy Young winner is the only active pitcher under the age of 33 with more than 100 wins. Blue Jays starter José Berríos is the current leader for the under-30 club, with 83 wins. Blake Snell, the NL Cy Young front-runner, has 71 wins. 

The great Roger Angell once wrote that ballplayers are like actors or politicians — it’s difficult to spot greatness early in their careers. But it’s tough to envision any active hurlers reaching 200 wins.

Why? Bullpens are bigger and better, so starters throw fewer innings than ever. Increases in fastball velocity have led to increases in pitcher injuries — it’s hard to rack up wins on the injured list. What’s more, managers don’t care about wins. In the old days, skippers would leave their hurlers on the hill to endure just to get them the decision. 

The bigger picture has changed, and with it, so should our understanding of greatness. Wainwright won’t just be the last 200-win pitcher for a while, he might be the last 200-win non-Hall of Famer for much longer. 

That’s not to say Waino didn’t have a peak. He finished second in Cy Young voting twice and third twice. He was a three-time All-Star and World Series champion who concludes his career with a 3.53 lifetime ERA. But dominant? One of the GOATs of a generation? Not to knock a man while he’s up, but Wainwright sits a tier below the HOF locks like Scherzer, Verlander, Kershaw & Co.

Barring significant rule changes or an unforeseen sweep back to 1955, the eternal Georgian, a dude drafted in the year 2000 in the same round as Twins skipper Rocco Baldelli, looks to be one of the last true Hall of Very Good workhorse.

That’s a remarkable accomplishment in its own right, a career to remember and celebrate, because we won’t see many like it again.

Jake Mintz, the louder half of @CespedesBBQ is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He played college baseball, poorly at first, then very well, very briefly. Jake lives in New York City where he coaches Little League and rides his bike, sometimes at the same time. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Mintz.

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