This 2012 club has a ways to go before accomplishing anything worth celebrating decades from now, though consecutive wins against Milwaukee are a move back in the right direction. A team that has now won 11 of its last 15 also witnessed on Saturday what Wainwright can be for them the rest of the way.
"It's huge for our team," outfielder Jon Jay said. "We really need him in this stretch that we're going to go on to come through with our goals, which is to play in October."
There was a key prelude before Wainwright owned the stage on Saturday, and that came mid-week in Colorado. Frustrated by sub-par fastball command in his previous two starts, Wainwright devised a mind game. He turned to pitching coach Derek Lilliquist and told him to start counting strikes.
Wainwright followed by throwing 10 straight fastballs, putting nine of them over the plate. He went 6-for-6 painting one corner and then 5-for-6 aiming over the other.
"The focus stepped up," Wainwright later explained, "and all of a sudden, my location stepped up."
There was carryover, too.
Wainwright located his fastball with ease in this game, using it as a set-up pitch and an out-pitch.
"I thought he was an artist with his fastball tonight," noted manager Mike Matheny.
The same analogy was referenced in the visitors' clubhouse.
"I came back up and looked at some of the pitches, they were painted," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "And it's got good life on it. I don't know if he's been throwing like that against everybody, but it was really good."
With Wainwright crafting the game as he desired, the Brewers never had the chance to adjust. They were kept off-balance by Wainwright's four-pitch mix and mustered only four singles after scoring a first-inning run. There was nothing about Milwaukee's offensive night that could have been considered a threat.
Wainwright struck out seven and threw 13 fewer pitches than he did in his 111-pitch, nine-inning start on May 22. Seventy-three of these 98 pitches were strikes.
The Brewers have seen Wainwright's climb up close this season. They opposed him in his first start post-Tommy John surgery back in April. Wainwright lasted 5 2/3 innings in that one. In mid-July, he tossed seven innings against them. Saturday was the 10th complete game of Wainwright's career.
"He's definitely better than he was the first outing, but even then he still looked good," said Milwaukee's Corey Hart. "He still looked like an above-average pitcher, and every time we've faced him he gets a little better. He's got our number, and it's one of those things that the confidence is on his side."
The Cardinals' offense -- of which Wainwright was an integral part -- backed the right-hander plenty in the early innings.
Carlos Beltran evened the score at 1-1 with a second-inning solo homer that wasn't counted as such until umpiring crew chief Tim Welke consulted instant replay. He overturned what was first ruled a triple when video evidence confirmed that Beltran's line drive cleared the right-field wall.
St. Louis broke the game open against Brewers starter Mark Rogers in the third. Daniel Descalso, who had another sensational night on defense, led off with a double. Wainwright continued redeeming some personal pride by collecting his third RBI in his last three starts with a double to left.
"As embarrassed as I was in the first half at the plate," Wainwright said, "it's about time I got some hits for the team."
Singles by Allen Craig, Matt Holliday and Beltran pushed home another run. Yadier Molina followed with the big blow, a bases-loaded single to put the Cardinals up 5-1.
Jay's solo homer in the sixth capped the scoring for the Cardinals, who have won 13 of the last 18 regular-season games played against the Brewers. St. Louis is 8-1 at home since resuming play after the All-Star break.
"I think we've been playing good ball for a little while now, but it's just overshadowed by Cincinnati," Jay said. "We're not worried with what they're doing. We're happy with the way we've been playing, but we have to keep pushing. We have a lot of ground to make up and just keep playing hard."
While gaining ground on Cincinnati continues to be a fruitless endeavor, the Cardinals are getting somewhere on the Pirates. After losing to the Reds again on Saturday, Pittsburgh holds only a 2 1/2-game lead over St. Louis in the Wild Card race.
"We're going to continue to go out there and try to win our game and execute at the plate and execute at the mound," Wainwright said. "Those other guys, if they want to come back to us, that's great. But we'll just try to keep winning and we'll see what happens."