In front of a sellout Sunday-night crowd at Great American Ball Park, Wainwright pitched the Cardinals to a fourth consecutive series win with eight more scoreless innings. It was his sixth start this season in which he had gone at least seven innings without allowing a run, and he'll carry a scoreless-inning streak of 20 into his next outing.
And to think that's not even his longest such scoreless string of the season.
"I've never felt like this," said Wainwright, who has held the Reds to eight hits in 15 shutout innings this season. "That's part of the evolution of me. I expected to get better as I got older, a little wiser. I saw [Chris Carpenter] do that. Now that I'm over 30 years old, I don't think there's any reason for me to start to decline."
Jhonny Peralta, who has played behind four Cy Young Award winners (two in Cleveland, two in Detroit) said: "He's the same."
Wainwright was locked in a pitchers' duel with Reds righty Mike Leake early before the Cardinals padded their lead late to minimize the suspense. With the win, the Cardinals now sit a season-best six games above .500 heading into another nine-game homestand.
"People watching today maybe on the national game, I hope they had an appreciation for what this guy does and how he does it," manager Mike Matheny said. "That was just a display of finesse, but still [hitting] 93 [mph]. Just the thinking side of the game, that's impressive."
Wainwright continued to invent and improvise, this time toying with the speed of already hard-to-hit pitches to leave the Reds baffled. He did it to former teammate Skip Schumaker in the seventh, striking him out with an 88-mph cutter. He dropped a 66-mph curveball into a pitch sequence to Brandon Phillips in the eighth. Phillips had finished his swing before Tony Cruz gloved the ball.
About the only thing to differentiate this masterpiece from any of Wainwright's others was that it was Cruz behind the plate, catching Wainwright for the first time since August 2013.
"It's hard to explain, but when he has that type of control and he has that game plan and that idea of what he wants to do and he's able to control it the way he does, it makes the game fun," Cruz said. "I feel like he knows exactly what he wants to do. And 99 percent of the time, he's going to put the ball where he wants to."
There was no rust to shake off between the batterymates, as Wainwright opened the night by retiring seven straight, five on strikeouts.
"We're spoiled rotten by our catchers," Wainwright said. "He and [Yadier Molina] get together and are such a great team that when he does get a start, he steps in and he's not behind."
Wainwright's biggest bit of trouble was snuffed out by Peralta in the third. Peralta lunged up the middle to snare a chopper that seemed a certain base hit for Todd Frazier. The only question seemed to be whether it would drive in the runner at second.
Instead, Peralta gloved the bouncer and made a backhanded flip to second baseman Kolten Wong before speedy Billy Hamilton could get to the base. Wainwright went out of his way to acknowledge Peralta for the assist as the Cardinals returned to the dugout.
"That's what I did today, defense, because my swing today was not pretty good," said Peralta, 0-for-5 at the plate.
The defensive save helped preserve what was a one-run lead at the time. Wong's two-out RBI single to center in the top half of the frame had plated Cruz from second. Cruz later drove home the Cardinals' second run with a two-out, two-strike, sixth-inning single to right off Leake.
Aggressiveness by Matt Carpenter helped the Cardinals build their lead to four in the seventh. His hustle turned a leadoff single into a two-base hit, and he pressured Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco to throw the ball away by being unhesitant coming in from third on a ball hit just feet away from the plate.
Cincinnati's inability to execute a rundown helped the Cardinals score again in the inning, on Allen Craig's RBI single.
Wainwright followed that with a 1-2-3 eighth, getting the final two of his career-high-tying 12 strikeouts. Of those, two closed innings with multiple runners on base. He stranded two with the strikeout of Schumaker, and Wainwright punched out Hamilton to leave two aboard in the fifth.
Wainwright threw a first-pitch strike to 22 of 30 batters faced. He finished with a season-high 117 pitches.
"He's kind of like Johnny Cueto, in that he works the corners and he's good at that," said Reds shortstop Zack Cozart. "When he gets behind, he seems to have a knack to throw a pitch on the corner and not leave it center-cut, and that's what makes him tough."
Wainwright's ERA shrunk to 1.67 with the team shutout, No. 8 (tied with Atlanta for most in the NL) of the season. Only Chicago's Jeff Samardzija (1.46) has a lower ERA than Wainwright in the Majors. Wainwright has pitched eight innings now in five of his 11 starts.
"I'm not even going to talk about it too much more, because I just don't want it to go away," Matheny said. "He's not overdoing anything. That's the epitome of pitching, in my opinion."