They could joke, because an injury described as a hyperextended right knee isn't nearly as serious as it sounds. They were smiling, because yet another outstanding start from Wainwright had propelled the Cardinals to a 3-0 win over the Mets on Tuesday at Citi Field.
Wainwright made it through just seven innings, but only because he mildly hurt the knee on the final out of the seventh. But they were seven more shutout innings, with just four hits as Wainwright pushed his scoreless-innings streak to 17 and lowered his ERA to 1.46.
"Terrific," manager Mike Matheny said. "He's pitching like I've never seen him."
Quite a statement, given that Wainwright -- who at 4-1 is tied with teammate Lance Lynn for the National League lead in wins -- has three times finished in the top three in Cy Young Award voting. But Wainwright backs it up, and so do his teammates.
"I'm more of a complete pitcher than I've ever been," Wainwright said. "Just using all my pitches, pitching to both sides of the plate, pitching up and pitching down."
And if there was any concern, Wainwright fully expects to make his next start on Sunday at Busch Stadium against the Pirates.
Initially, that didn't seem like a given after the way Wainwright lunged after a ball Chris Young chopped up the first-base line with two outs in the seventh. First baseman Matt Adams was able to field the ball and get the out, but the Cardinals' focus was on their ace, who was standing behind the first-base bag and didn't immediately walk toward the dugout.
"Slippery ground, and I was very unbalanced," Wainwright explained. "At first, you get a little scared, but as I started walking off the field, I knew everything would be OK."
He even made a half-hearted effort to talk Matheny into leaving him in the game. The manager thought better of it, and Wainwright went to the training room to get more fully checked out. The tests went well.
Everything was plenty good for the Cardinals, despite another game in which they scored fewer runs than they could have.
They were fortunate that Matheny decided to leave Jon Jay in the lineup, explaining that "I'm just trying to get some offense."
Jay delivered with a two-run single in the fourth inning that proved to be all the offense the Cards would need. After Jay's single, Jhonny Peralta walked to reload the bases with still nobody out. But the Cardinals hit into two straight force plays at the plate before Mets starter Dillon Gee struck out Matt Carpenter to end the inning.
The Cardinals barely threatened again. They loaded the bases with two out in the eighth, but Kolten Wong grounded out against reliever Gonzalez Germen, and Holliday drove in an insurance run with a two-out single off Jose Valverde in the ninth.
Holliday's bigger contribution came on defense, though, when he reached over the left-field fence to rob Chris Young of a potential game-tying home run in the fifth. That was easily the closest the Mets came to scoring off Wainwright, who never allowed a runner to advance to third base.
"It's hard to get on track against a guy that might win a Cy Young," said Daniel Murphy, whose bunt single in the fifth was one of the Mets' four hits (all singles). "He commands all his pitches to all quadrants of the zone, so you don't know which way he's going to go."
Matheny would agree.
"You couldn't guess along with him," Matheny said. "And he's been able to locate as well as I've seen him."
The only thing Wainwright didn't do was field Young's ball in the seventh. Even going after it proved to be a problem, although fortunately for the Cardinals, it doesn't appear it will be a long-lasting problem.
Wainwright's teammates held their breath as he walked uncomfortably off the field. It was only when the report came back that it wasn't serious that the mood changed.
"Once I realized he was all right, I was able to make fun of him," Holliday said. "It looked terrible."
It wasn't nearly that bad, and Wainwright should have a chance to add to his scoreless-innings streak on Sunday.