ST. LOUIS -- Insistent after his last outing -- a five-inning clunker against the Angels -- that he was wiping the season slate clean, Adam Wainwright responded with the sort of fresh start on Wednesday that can hush the premature chatter about his decline.
Wainwright's strongest performance of the season served as the backbone in the Cardinals' 2-0 win, and the positives oozed from the outing. The bite to his curveball was back, as was the life on his two-seamer. He pitched into the seventh for the first time this year, worked around leadoff hits in four different innings, and held the Rockies hitless in nine chances with a runner in scoring position.
Wainwright, a four-time National League Cy Young Award top-three finisher, wasn't ready to boast about being back in vintage form. But he felt as close as he's been in more than a year.
"I'm dangerous," Wainwright said. "You can say I'm dangerous again."
Wainwright had just about nowhere to go but up, as he entered the night with an ERA (6.80) that ranked 100th among the Majors' 101 qualifying starters. By shaving it to 5.92 with Wednesday's start, Wainwright moved up three notches on that list.
His was the third scoreless start by a Cardinals pitcher this season of more than six innings, and it helped the Cardinals win for the first time in a game in which they scored fewer than three runs.
"That was the kind of start we've been hoping for," manager Mike Matheny said, "the one that he would start and finish strong."
In many ways, Wainwright's 19-pitch first inning set the tone for his 102-pitch night. It started ominously with a leadoff triple, and, even after erasing that runner, was further complicated by an Aledmys Diaz error. But Wainwright responded by shattering Carlos Gonzalez's bat on the second out and retiring Mark Reynolds to erase the threat.
He had felt sharp warming up in the bullpen ahead of the start, and that first inning reaffirmed that outlook.
"I think it's just a culmination of things we've been doing this whole year," Wainwright said of navigating through a tumultuous six-week stretch. "We've continued to build my leg strength. We've continued to make little adjustments to my delivery. I've continued to stay positive. There were a lot of good lessons I've learned going through all that process."
He's still not generating heavy ground-ball contact or garnering many swing-and-misses (eight percent on the season), but key for Wainwright is that he found a way to make the most of what he had. And though most of it hasn't been as crisp as it was Wednesday, Wainwright has suddenly strung together four consecutive wins. That's tied for most on the pitching staff.
Matheny allowed Wainwright the chance to properly punctuate the start, too, sticking with him when the potential go-ahead run stepped to the plate in the seventh. So accustomed to having his manager take away the ball, Wainwright was able to look Matheny in the eye during that seventh-inning mound visit and convince him he had one more in him.
"I think tonight he looked out there and knew that the guy on the mound was still good enough to get the next guy out," Wainwright said.
Two pitches later, Wainwright induced the flyout.