ST. LOUIS -- Adam Wainwright had six days to sit around and think about one of the worst starts of his career in one of the biggest games he had ever pitched.
In the fifth and deciding game of the NL Division Series against the Washington Nationals, Wainwright put his team in a major hole, but his St. Louis Cardinals completed a historic comeback from that 6-0 deficit.
Wainwright went to the mound Thursday night for the first NL Championship Series start of his career determined to not let it happen again.
It didn't. Wainwright limited the San Francisco Giants to one run on four hits through seven innings, pitching the Cardinals to an 8-3 victory that put the defending champions on the cusp of a return trip to the World Series.
"A little part of me wanted to reprove it to myself that I could go out there and pitch great when we need me to," Wainwright said. "I knew I could. I was very confident in my ability and my stuff. I just needed to trust it and go out there and make pitches, and tonight I was able to execute."
It was a long six days waiting for that next start.
"He was barely getting off the mound in Washington and was telling everybody to pick him up," said manager Mike Matheny. "He wanted another chance to pitch, and I think we all knew we would see something pretty special if he got that opportunity. That's just his makeup.
"He came out today and was really sharp. He established his fastball and his curveball was as good as I've seen it. It was just one of those times when a guy who is a leader on your team has that opportunity to step up and do something big and he did it."
The Cardinals lead the Giants three games to one and will try to clinch the series Friday night. Only twice since 1985 has an NL team holding a three-games-to-one lead lost the NLCS. The 2003 Chicago Cubs fell to the Florida Marlins, and the 1996 Cardinals lost to the Atlanta Braves.
Wainwright protected a 2-1 lead from the second through the fifth inning before his teammates gave him two insurance runs against Giants starter Tim Lincecum and then blew the game open against the San Francisco bullpen.
None of his teammates were surprised.
"He rarely has a bad outing, but when he does he bounces back with the best of them," said third baseman David Freese. "He started dropping that curveball in early for strikes and you knew he was going to have a great game.
"He was a cheerleader in between starts just like he always is. He was upbeat, happy, cheering on his teammates, but I know for a fact he could not wait to get back on that mound and I know he's real happy with the outcome tonight."
Wainwright struck out five, including Hector Sanchez three times, and did not walk a batter in picking up the first postseason win of his career as a starter. It was the first time a Cardinals starter had worked seven or more innings and allowed one or no runs in a NLCS game since Jeff Suppan did it in Game 7 in 2006 against the Mets, when Wainwright earned the save in the 3-1 victory.
Lincecum's troubles began in the first inning, as often was the case during the regular season, when he gave up an MLB-high 28 runs in 33 starts. In his first start of the postseason after three relief outings, he gave up two runs before he could get the first two outs and was gone before the fifth inning was over.
"Right now I'm obviously upset at myself for the game today," Lincecum said. "I just kind of missed my spots, leaving pitches out over the middle. That's the frustrating part, starting off 2-0 in that first inning. You put your team in a hole and you have to scratch back. That first inning was really big."
The hole the Giants find themselves in going to Game 5 in the series is that they have to win three consecutive games or go home for the winter.
"We've done it before," said manager Bruce Bochy, well aware the Giants won three consecutive games in Cincinnati last week to advance to the NLCS. "You've got to keep believing and hope. Without that you don't have anything. These guys, they'll be out there fighting tomorrow.
"It's not going to change. We've been through a lot this year. We've just got to come out, try to win the game tomorrow and see if we can get this thing back home."
NOTES: Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran did not play after leaving Wednesday's game with a strained left knee. He was said to be available if he was needed as a pinch hitter. ... With Beltran out, the Cardinals changed their starting lineup for the first time in the postseason. Allen Craig shifted from first base to right field, and Matt Carpenter started at first. ... The Giants also changed their lineup, moving Buster Posey to first base in place of Brandon Belt and starting Hector Sanchez behind the plate. ... With Barry Zito scheduled to be the Giants' starting pitcher in Game 5, Madison Bumgarner was available in the bullpen Thursday. .... Lance Lynn will make his second start of the series for the Cardinals in Game 5 on Friday night. ... If the series returns to San Francisco for Games 6 and 7, manager Bruce Bochy said the Giants would start Ryan Vogelsong and Matt Cain. The Cardinals' scheduled starters would be Chris Carpenter and Kyle Lohse.