The Cardinals hung five runs on a tough left-handed pitcher and rolled to an 8-0 win against a division rival. The victory, in front of a sellout crowd on Fireworks Night, moved them into sole possession of first place in the National League Central, thanks to the Reds' loss in Washington, for the first time since May 23. Best of all, Adam Wainwright breezed to the first shutout of his professional career, a span of 97 previous big league starts and 138 in the Minor Leagues.
"I'll leave it to you guys to describe it," La Russa told reporters after the game. "I'll just say, 'Wow.' And you're talking about one of the better hitting clubs in either league. He kept the ball off their barrel. [Yadier Molina] did a good job as always, but he hit the mitt like 90 percent of the time. Just the command, stuff, composure and against a really good hitting team. It was Major League plus there."
Wainwright not only shut out the second-most potent offense in the National League, he made it look easy. Two of the first six Brewers hitters laced doubles. After that, none even managed a base hit. Wainwright was clinically effective, getting ahead and then putting hitters away, striking out eight against one walk. He needed a mere 103 pitches to get all 27 outs, and faced three batters over the minimum.
"I can't remember ever facing him, but I played behind him for years and I knew he was special," said Brewers outfielder and former Cardinal Jim Edmonds. "That's impressive, the way the ball is moving and jumping out of his hand. ... His composure is just unbelievable. The great word that Tony always uses is, 'Special,' and he's a special pitcher."
Typically an aggressive team, the Brewers came out taking against Wainwright on Friday. It didn't work. A team that has seen the fifth fewest pitches per plate appearance in the league took one first pitch after another -- and those pitches were consistently called strikes. Of 30 Milwaukee hitters, 15 took a first-pitch called strike. Eight more took a first-pitch ball, while only seven swung.
That passiveness, combined with Wainwright's impeccable command, allowed the big right-hander to get ahead in the count again and again. Once he was ahead, he could do what he wanted, and he did. Wainwright induced 15 groundouts against only four flyouts, to go along with his eight strikeouts.
"Of course you see it, but I didn't change my game plan," Wainwright said. "Had they been swinging or not swinging, I still would have tried to throw good quality pitches down in the zone. If they hit 'em, they hit 'em. If they don't they don't. [But] it's a much different game when you're ahead in the count. You can afford to go out there and make them hit your stuff. If you're ahead in the count every time, they're on the defensive right away."
As Wainwright got close, he was aware of the times he had come close without getting a shutout. Ten times before he had pitched seven or more innings without allowing a run but did not finish the game -- including an 8 1/3-inning showing against these same Brewers last July. On three previous occasions he had pitched a nine-inning complete game without finishing off the shutout. This time, he got it done.
"It was starting to be one of those things like, it looms in the back of your mind," he admitted. "Luckily, I can cross that off the list and just go out and pitch now."
All the while his offense was making it easier. The Cards scratched out two runs on a fielder's choice and a sacrifice fly in the third, then two more on Colby Rasmus' homer in the sixth. They broke it open with three in the eighth, as Wainwright even scored a run after reaching on a force play. To top it off, the Redbirds played sharp defense, ran the bases well -- in short, they played an exemplary game for their exceptional pitcher.
"I know we played really well," La Russa said. "The defense was on their toes. You know, I thought [Brewers starter Randy] Wolf was really good, but we created some good at-bats. ... Up and down the line I really thought the guys worked the at-bats."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.