ST. LOUIS — Playing behind Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Matt Adams appreciates his position.
Adams had a close-up look at the latest stellar performance by Wainwright, who became the major leagues' first five-game winner Sunday by allowing three hits in eight shutout innings of a 7-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
On one pitch, Wainwright would overpower a hitter with a mid-90s fastball. Next would be a 68-mph curveball, followed by a cutter somewhere in between. Domination defined. Pitching in its purist form.
"That's tough, especially whenever he's got a 92, 94 fastball with a cutter to go with that," Adams said. "And then he drops that anywhere from 68- to 70-mph curveball in there. That makes it tough as a hitter.
"It's awesome to watch, especially when he has all his pitches working, which he did today. That's a good (Pittsburgh) team over there and he kept them all off-balanced. Day in and day out, it's the same thing with him."
Shortstop Jhonny Peralta hit two home runs against Pirates starter Edinson Volquez, a bases-empty shot in the fifth and a three-run blast in the sixth, in support of Wainwright (5-1), who walked two and struck out seven.
Wainwright extended his scoreless-innings streak to 25, lowered his ERA to 1.20 and threw 67 of his 99 pitches for strikes. He has surrendered just 24 hits in six starts and 45 innings. He became the fourth pitcher in franchise history to win five games in March and April, and the first since Darryl Kile in 2000.
"I was having fun kind of tinkering with speeds out there," Wainwright said. "I changed speeds on my curveball throughout the game. My cutter, too, I threw a couple slower ones to see (hitters') reactions. The best way to know if things are going to work is to try them at game speed.
"Luckily, things were working. I would hate to go out there and give up some runs, but I was confident it was going to work. We played a great game defensively. And of course, Jhonny's big swings."
Wainwright was in trouble twice. He pitched out of a first-and-second, no-out jam in the third, then stranded runners at first and third in the sixth with an 85-mph cutter that froze Neil Walker.
"I know by the reaction of the hitter whether (I) want to speed it up or slow it down," Wainwright said. "A lot of times, the slower my curveball is, the more of a swing-and-miss pitch it is. And the harder it is, the more of a groundball pitch it is.
"I'm just kind of enjoying finding out all those odds and ends that work and which pitches work at different speeds."
Wainwright, who said he's having more fun pitching than at any other point of his career, also is thrilling those around him.
"Waino was the same guy we've seen all season," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It's been an absolute joy to watch. We got some big hits today and gave him a little room to breathe."
Not that Wainwright needed it. The Pirates, or any other team, would have had difficulty scoring against the stuff Wainwright displayed Sunday.
"He's been outstanding. Great. It's unbelievable," Volquez said. "Everything he throws to the plate is a strike, (with) a lot of movement. He's a superstar."
A superstar whose best years could still be ahead of him.
"Obviously, the results are what we all focus on, but I just keep coming back to what he's teaching our younger pitchers," Matheny said. "This guy who has had so many accomplishments in this game and who has had a great career, he's not afraid to figure out how he can get better. That's him in a nutshell."
Wainwright can't recall a better month.
"It's certainly the strongest mentally I've felt ever in my life," he said. "I have total confidence in every pitch. (But) what I know from the past is exactly when I start feeling like I've got everything figured out is exactly when it turns off and things fall off fast. I don't for a second think I've figured everything out. I'm enjoying where I'm at, and I'm going to do everything I can to stay there."
Matt Holliday had a first-inning sacrifice fly, Allen Craig had an RBI single in the sixth and Yadier Molina had a ninth-inning sacrifice fly as the Cardinals had their highest run output since April 17 in Washington.
Wainwright needed three more outs for his eighth career shutout, but Matheny instead went to Carlos Martinez in the ninth, and Martinez struck out Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Travis Snider.
Naturally, Wainwright lobbied to pitch the ninth.
"It didn't go well. It didn't go well at all," Matheny said. "He gets it."
Wainwright only smiled.
"I didn't throw a fit about it or anything," he said. "I made him come over and shake my hand."