ST. LOUIS — With one big swing, Matt Adams ended what had been an agonizing offensive performance by the St. Louis Cardinals.
Adams hit a two-run homer against Justin Wilson in the ninth inning Monday, giving the Cardinals a 2-0 win over Pittsburgh in the opener of an important four-game series at Busch Stadium.
Matt Carpenter walked against Wilson (2-1) leading off the ninth. After Matt Holliday flied out, Adams pounced on an 0-1 curveball and sent it into the seats in right for his 10th home run of the season and his third against a left-hander.
"This is unbelievable," Adams said of his 389-foot no-doubter. "I don't know what to say. As soon as I made contact with it, I knew it was gone. I just had to make sure I didn't hook it foul.
"That guy's got a great fastball. I went up there ready to swing, being aggressive. He throws a lot of strikes, and ended up leaving an off-speed pitch up in the zone. ... I don't think I touched the dirt the whole way around."
Teammates waited at the plate to mob Adams, who had two of the Cardinals' three hits after collecting four of their 10 on Sunday.
It was Adams' first game-winning homer and St. Louis' first since Skip Schumaker connected June 19, 2011, against Tim Collins to culminate a 5-4 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
"That was exactly what we were hoping for," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Adams' bomb. "That's a play we put on, so it worked out really well. ... It was a great at-bat. He's in a nice spot right now."
Pat Neshek (3-0) threw a scoreless ninth for the victory. The Cardinals (48-42) lead all of baseball with 17 shutouts.
With Adam Wainwright on the mound, the Cardinals liked their chances for victory after two straight losses to Miami.
Not only did Wainwright lead the National League in ERA at 1.89 and was tied for the most victories with 11, but the Cardinals were taking their swings against Charlie Morton, who had been 2-10 with a 6.11 ERA in his career against St. Louis.
It was a struggle for Wainwright as he allowed 11 baserunners, including seven hits, and tossed 112 pitches. But he kept the Pirates off the board for seven innings, walking three and striking out five and lowering his ERA to 1.79.
"I told him this and he looked at me kind of funny, as you will to," Matheny said. "I thought it was one of his best games only from the fact he didn't have near his best stuff. He had a very good curveball, but did not have the location on his fastball he's been used to."
Morton was even better, however, throwing zeroes at the Cardinals for seven innings, allowing only a two-out double by Adams in the first. He walked two and struck out five on 84 pitches.
"It just seemed like he was doing like a lot of the pitchers we've been seeing lately --making good pitches," Matheny said. "We get them a little bit on the ropes and they get the big double play."
The teams' bullpens took over after the starters departed, and the game remained scoreless after nine innings before 42,448.
Pittsburgh, which stranded 12 runners, had its best chance to break through in the eighth against Sam Freeman, who relieved Wainwright to start the inning.
Neil Walker singled, and after Russell Martin walked, pinch-hitter Gaby Sanchez walked on a 3-2 pitch. Pedro Alvarez popped out to shallow center, but Jordy Mercer extended the inning with a smash to second baseman Kolten Wong, who couldn't make the pickup.
That got Morton out of the game, as the Pirates sent rookie Gregory Polanco to the plate as a pinch-hitter. Freeman overpowered the youngster, striking him out to keep the game tied. Pittsburgh was 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
The Cardinals had a chance to take the lead in the eighth.
Jon Jay singled against Tony Watson, and Wong advanced Jay to second with a sacrifice.
Pinch-hitter Oscar Taveras lined out to Josh Harrison in right. Jay, however, wandered too far off second and was thrown out by Harrison before he could get back to the bag.
The start of the game was delayed 47 minutes by the threat of rain. Another delay, caused by rain, lasted 11 minutes.
The Cardinals, who blew a ninth-inning lead in a 6-5 loss to Miami on Saturday before being thumped 8-4 by the Marlins on Sunday, took over second place in the NL Central, 1/2-game ahead of the third-place Pirates and four behind Milwaukee.
Wainwright didn't have a one-two-three inning. He allowed two baserunners in the first, two in the second, one in the third, two in the fourth, one in the fifth, one in the sixth and two in the seventh.
Besides Adams' first-inning double, the only other runners for the Cardinals against Morton were Carpenter's walks in the third and sixth and Jay's hit by pitch in the fifth
Carpenter's walk to open the sixth was followed by Holliday's 5-4-3 double play. Holliday has hit into 14 double plays.