Shelby Miller set the bar almost impossibly high Friday night. But Adam Wainwright didn’t miss clearing it by very much.
After Cardinals rookie Miller had worn out the Colorado Rockies in a 3-0 win, retiring the final 27 hitters after giving up a broken-bat single, veteran righthander Wainwright retired the first 13 men he faced on Saturday and didn’t allow a hit until there was one out in the eighth inning.
The Rockies, who tied a record with their 40 consecutive at-bats without a baserunner, eventually mustered a second hit off Wainwright with two outs in the ninth before Wainwright finished off the Cardinals’ second consecutive 3-0 victory.
“What a great couple of days here,” manager Mike Matheny said. “You guys were asking yesterday about a tough act for Adam to follow and what’s he going to do? And he just about did it.
“You don’t see very much of what we’ve seen the last two days. This (Colorado) lineup is a strong lineup and it’s not just a lineup that hits in Coors Field,’’ the team’s home park.
This sort of thing hasn’t happened in the last 100 or so years for the Cardinals.
Records kept since 1916 reveal that the Cardinals never have pitched a one-hit shutout and then a two-hit shutout in succession.
The closest was on May 2-3 of 1967 when Bob Gibson and Ray Washburn blanked Cincinnati, both with two-hitters, with current Cardinals radio voice Mike Shannon driving in five of the seven runs the Cardinals scored in those games.
Wainwright, throwing his sixth career shutout, did match Miller stride for stride in one area, though. Like Miller, Wainwright struck out four times in four at-bats, leaving numerous runners on.
This effort capped a horrendous stretch for Cardinals pitchers and sounded a loud cry for the designated hitter as Cardinals pitchers are nothing for their last 24, with 20 strikeouts.
“That’s pretty embarrassing,” Wainwright said. “That’s my first ‘sombrero’ (four-strikeout game), especially two times with the bases loaded.”
But we digress. The more important issue is that the Cardinals reached 11 games above .500, in just their 35th game, after needing 109 contests to get to that level last year. They have won nine of their last 10 games as their starters, who already have been part of seven shutouts, continue to lower their earned run average, now at 2.11.
“So far, this is the best staff ever,” said Wainwright, knowing that those numbers probably won’t be quite the same all season.
Wainwright says he’s just trying to keep up.
“Those young guys are pushing me,” he said.
“Once you see Shelby mow through a lineup like he has all year, you’ve got to do that, too. There’s a new sheriff in town,” Wainwright said, smiling.
While the results the last two days were quite similar, how they were attained were “drastically different,” Matheny said. Miller threw fastball after fastball, daring the Rockies to hit it when they could get the bats unfrozen from their shoulders, and using the curveball occasionally.
Wainwright, unhappy with his inability to finish off hitters in his last start (in Milwaukee), got back to “basics,” as he put it. That meant often getting his breaking ball over for strike one and then mixing his pitches thereafter.
Pitching coach Derek Lilliquist said, “They’re two very different styles. It was cool to watch. And you’ll have a different guy tomorrow (lefthander Jaime Garcia will pitch on Sunday). We took some time in the set-up of the rotation to give (opposing teams) different looks.’’
Todd Helton ended, sort of, the Rockies’ futility with a one-out walk in the fifth.
“I hate walking people,” said Wainwright, who has walked just four while striking out 55 in eight starts. “I don’t hate many things in the world. But I hate walking people. You never want to lose a perfect game with a walk.”
The next time Helton batted, in the eighth, he skimmed a grounder headed to right field. Matt Carpenter, no longer a second baseman in training, dived to his left to make the stop and threw out Helton.
“When I made that play, I thought, ‘There’s going to be a no-hitter today,’” Carpenter said.
Allen Craig, who had three of the Cardinals’ 13 hits, said, “I feel like (Wainwright) is going to do that every time. By the third or fourth inning, you could tell he was throwing everything for strikes and could do whatever he wanted to do.”
The next hitter after Helton, rookie third baseman Nolan Arenado, singled to center off a pitch that Wainwright said wasn’t that bad.
“I was just trying to hit the ball hard,” Arenado said. “It was a good pitch. I got pretty lucky, I guess.”
Dexter Fowler singled with two out in the ninth for the Rockies’ other hit. Otherwise, it has been a lost weekend for the team that is leading the National League in team batting.
“I think it’s a combination of things – us going a little cold and at the same time running into a couple pitchers who aren’t missing,’’ Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. “Both guys we’ve faced in these first two games have pitched on the edges of the strike zone with all of their stuff, which makes it very difficult.”
Wainwright said that the potential no-hitter crossed his mind after the third inning.
“I was thinking, ‘We’ve got them out a bunch of times in a row here,” he said.
With the passing of each inning, he got more and more intrigued by the possibilities and when he got to the eighth, he was amped.
“Maybe this is my day,” he said. “This is the day I’m going to throw a no-hitter. Matt made that great play at second base and I said, ‘Dadgum, this might be the day.’ But as soon I got a little cocky, the next guy gets a base hit.
“That’s the great thing about baseball. As soon as you think you’ve got it figured out, it humbles you.”
A sellout crowd of 43,050 rose in tribute to Wainwright and he hastily tipped his cap before continuing to protect his shutout.
“I appreciated it,” he said. “I had chills all over my entire body when they were standing up and clapping for me.
“It was definitely felt.”