If Wainwright hadn't missed 2 1/2 months due to a right middle finger sprain, the Cardinals might have gotten a lot closer to that team goal. Wainwright finished 11-3 in just 20 starts. He wasn't at his best on Wednesday, and the Cardinals had a lineup that did not include Albert Pujols, Ryan Ludwick and Troy Glaus in the middle of the order.
Nevertheless, Wainwright won again.
"It was an important game, just for morale around here and knowing that we're a good team," Wainwright said. "That team over there is battling for the playoffs."
St. Louisan and former University of Missouri star Max Scherzer drew the start for the Diamondbacks and had a big delegation of fans on hand. Scherzer pitched well enough over five innings, but it was his throwing error on a Wainwright bunt in the second that pointed the Cardinals in the direction of a victory.
With runners at first and second and nobody out, Wainwright laid down a sacrifice bunt. Scherzer's throw sailed past first, and two runs scored.
The Diamondbacks bounced back to tie the game in the third, but Wainwright and a four-man bullpen brigade blanked Arizona the rest of the way. The Cardinals used a sacrifice fly in the fourth by Cesar Izturis to take the lead and tacked on an insurance run in the fifth on Adam Kennedy's two-out RBI single.
The Diamondbacks left 11 on base and were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
"It wasn't my best effort," Wainwright said after allowing seven hits in six-plus innings. "There were a bunch of ducks on the pond today. My mechanics were a struggle, but I was able to make pitches and get out of things. If you can win games when you're not at your best, you're going to be all right."
After becoming a World Series hero in 2006, Wainwright wants more trips to the postseason. He felt the Cardinals were poised to get it done at the end of August, but a couple of bad road trips in September caused St. Louis to fall too far off the Wild Card pace.
"I want to play in the cold air," Wainwright said. "I got spoiled doing it my first year, so I feel like that's what I should do every year. We didn't deliver that. But you're talking about a team that was picked to finish fifth in the NL Central and picked to lose 90 games by a lot of people. We proved a lot of people wrong."
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa didn't have much power in Wednesday's lineup. The leading home run man was Skip Schumaker, with eight. But the club manufactured just enough offense for Wainwright with Pujols, Ludwick and Glaus looking on.
"I knew that everybody who went to bat would take those at-bats like it was the seventh game of the World Series," La Russa said. "And the three guys we rested were on fumes."
The Cardinals (82-76) clinched a winning season by taking down the Diamondbacks for the second consecutive night.
"With the kind of September we were having, I was worried that we could get to the finish line under .500," La Russa said. "Fortunately, we scraped together a win or two. With four to go, we're going to be a winning club. I think that's very important."