ST. LOUIS — When Adam Wainwright went out for the ninth inning Wednesday night, he had a chance to accomplish a pitching rarity: Complete a shutout in fewer than 100 pitches.
He got the shutout in a 2-0 victory over the Brewers but ended up throwing 102 pitches.
But one of those pitches in the ninth inning was as impressive — and encouraging to the Cardinals — as any he has thrown all season. With a 1-2 count on Ryan Braun, Wainwright reared back and, on his 91st offering of the night, unleashed a 95-mph fastball for called strike three. While Braun had reason to be upset with a pitch that appeared to be outside, Wainwright could not help but sneak a look at the pitch-velocity board.
"It felt good coming out, so I kind of gave it a glance," Wainwright said.
Why not? Wainwright hadn’t dialed up a fastball with that kind of juice since early in the season. But closing in on his career-best third shutout of the season, he decided this would be the time to bring some heat.
"When you’re feeling good and your delivery is sound, you can add to it occasionally," Wainwright said. "That’s a good sign."
Putting his August slump even further behind, Wainwright won his fourth consecutive start, lowered his ERA to 2.45 and recorded his 19th win, the fourth time he has won at least that many in a season. He worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth but otherwise, did not allow a Brewer to get into scoring position.
"My stuff was good but more importantly, I was locating the ball and staying ahead in the count," Wainwright said.
"Everything was working for him, everything," said Yadier Molina, who called it Wainwright’s best outing of the season. "That’s why he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. That was outstanding."
Molina said he didn’t notice — or care — about the ninth-inning rise in Wainwright’s velocity. "I don’t like to see the speed," Molina said. "I just try to focus on what I’m calling right there. But yeah, his ball was moving a lot. That’s what I was looking for."
He might have been the only one not dazzled by the radar gun.
"When you watch in the ninth and see 95 pop up there, you realize this guy still has a lot in the tank," manager Mike Matheny said. "Special pitcher when he gets it all right."
Matheny added, "I wouldn’t mind seeing it in the first."
Well, how about it? Is Wainwright, who was touching 93 mph regularly, planning to add the big heater to a repertoire that already includes one of the game’s best curveballs, cutter and sinker?
"Don’t hold your breath on it, but maybe when we need it," Wainwright said. "That’s deep in the back pocket."
And to think for the first six innings, he wasn’t even the best pitcher in the game. Brewers right-hander Mike Fiers, in his first outing since he ended Giancarlo Stanton’s season with a fastball to the face, did not give up a hit and had faced the minimum until two were out in the sixth. His no-hit bid was broken up by, of all Cardinals, Wainwright. When Fiers left a 1-2 fastball up and over the plate, Wainwright grounded it sharply up the middle.
Still, this was a night about pitching and Wainwright’s performance not only helped the Cardinals move a game closer to the NL Central title, it showed that his right arm is back to early-season from.
"I would say it’s got its second wind," Matheny said. "Good timing for it."
— Matt Holliday. Leading off the St. Louis seventh, he started the Cardinals’ only rally with, believe it or not, a foul ball. It was quite a foul ball, though, with home-run distance to left field that landed just a foot or two foul. Perhaps Fiers was rattled because he threw Holliday four straight balls to give the Cardinals just their third baserunner of the night.
Holliday then raced all the way around to score the game’s first run when Matt Adams singled up the middle and center fielder Carlos Gomez slipped as he was going for the ball. Given a tiny opening by the error, third-base coach Jose Oquendo did not hesitate in sending Holliday, who used a nifty slide to avoid the tag of Jonathan Lucroy.
— Cardinals shutouts. Wainwright’s third shutout of the season was the 21st for the Cardinals, their most since the mound was lowered in 1969. The Cardinals had 30 shutouts in 1968, 13 of them pitched by Bob Gibson.
— Matt Carpenter. His backhand of Aramis Ramirez’s smashed one-hopper down the third-base line saved an extra-base hit and ended the Brewers’ eighth inning. Carpenter probably saved another hit when he ranged near the pitcher’s mound to field a bunt by Jean Segura and threw him out in the seventh.
— Cardinals’ offense. From the second inning on Tuesday until the seventh inning Wednesday, the Cardinals did not advance a runner as far as third base. During the 17-inning scoreless drought, they went 5 for 53 with two walks. Of the seven baserunners, three were thrown out at second base trying to steal or stretch a single.
— Beating the shift. What few balls the Cardinals hit hard in the early innings seemed to be hit right at perfectly positioned second baseman Scooter Gennett. Holliday and Molina both knocked balls up the middle that Gennett grabbed after barely having to move. Adams hit a hard grounder that got through the right side of the infield only to have Gennett, stationed in right field with the shift on, field the ball and throw to first for an out.