DENVER -- The Colorado Rockies had an opportunity to inflict major damage on St. Louis Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright in the first inning Wednesday night.
Instead, the Rockies had to settle for two runs, and Wainwright quickly regrouped and led the Cardinals to a 4-3 win at Coors Field.
The victory enabled the Cardinals to extend their lead in the National League Central to two games over the Pittsburgh Pirates, who lost their third straight game at home to San Diego, falling 3-2 when the Padres scored twice in the ninth inning.
Wainwright (17-9) gave up four consecutive hits and two runs to open the first. At that point, he had runners on first and second. But Wainwright, who went 3-for-3 with two RBIs and scored a run, snuffed out that rally and pitched 7 2/3 innings.
"The more he got into the game, the sharper he got," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
Wainwright allowed three runs and 10 hits with eight strikeouts and one walk. After 121 pitches, 89 strikes, he gave way to Trevor Rosenthal with runners on first and second in the eighth. Rosenthal got Charlie Blackmon to ground out.
Wainwright, whose ERA crept up to 2.98, said he made mistakes on just two pitches, doubles by DJ LeMahieu in the first and Helton in the sixth.
"My curveball early on, if you look at the first few breaking balls I threw, were spinners or yankers," Wainwright said. "And then I found the right grip, the right arm slot to make it work every time. Once I found that, I locked it in; it was a completely different ballgame."
The game ended when closer Edward Mujica struck out Todd Helton with the bases loaded to earn his 37th save in 40 opportunities.
"That was not exactly how it was designed," Matheny said, "but he's the guy we want out there in the ninth inning."
Pinch hitter Dexter Fowler opened the ninth with a single against Mujica. Corey Dickerson sacrificed Fowler to second, and LeMahieu flied to right. Mujica threw two pitches away to Troy Tulowitzki, hoping he would chase and then intentionally walked him when he didn't.
The absence of Michael Cuddyer, who bats after Tulowitzki but had left the game, factored into the decision to put Tulowitzki on base, Matheny said, and pitch to Charlie Culberson.
Culberson hit a bad-hop single off third baseman Daniel Descalso, loading the bases for Helton and causing the crowd to rise for the 40-year-old Rockies icon, who is retiring at the end of the season.
"I was betting on Todd right there to deliver the big hit like he has for years," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said.
Mujica threw three changeups, got ahead of Helton 1-2 and then followed catcher Yadier Molina's lead.
"Yadi told me throw a fastball high, and I made the right pitch," Mujica said. "Everybody thinks I'm going to throw my best pitch, and my best pitch is a changeup. I think that pitch surprised him, a fastball high in the zone."
Helton took a mighty swing ... and missed.
In 11 games, including six starts, against the Rockies, Wainwright is 6-1 with a 1.50 ERA. At Coors Field, he is 2-0 with a 2.21 ERA in three games, two starts.
"It's an interesting place to pitch," Wainwright said. "It's also a place that if you go into it thinking your stuff won't work, your stuff won't work. You can't get mentally defeated by a tough park. You have to go in and trust your ability, trust your stuff and trust your ability to make adjustments, which I was able to do tonight."
The Rockies climbed out of their early hole thanks in large part to Wainwright's offense. The pitcher hit an RBI double in the third inning, then tied the game at 2 when he scored on Matt Carpenter's single.
In the fourth, Wainwright's run-scoring single gave St. Louis a 3-2 lead. Yadier Molina extended the advantage with a fifth-inning RBI hit.
The Rockies cut the Cardinals' lead to 4-3 in the sixth on doubles by Helton leading off and Blackmon with two out.
Rockies starter Tyler Chatwood (7-5) gave up eight hits and four runs in six innings, getting 13 outs on ground balls.
NOTES: Cardinals 1B Matt Adams left the game with right elbow soreness in the seventh and is listed day-to-day. ... Cuddyer came out after the sixth with a right forearm contusion, and he is day-to-day. He went 1-for-3 to keep his average at .331 and remain four points ahead of Atlanta's Chris Johnson in the NL batting race. ... Cardinals RF Carlos Beltran was given the night off. In 12 games since moving from the No. 2 spot in the order to cleanup, following a foot injury to Allen Craig, who typically bats fourth, Beltran has hit .171 with a .280 on-base percentage and .244 slugging percentage and just three extra-base hits. ... Cardinals RHP Joe Kelly came out after five scoreless innings Tuesday due to soreness in his right calf near his knee. However, he isn't expected to miss a start. ... Rockies C Wilin Rosario and 3B Nolan Arenado are expected to be out of the lineup for a few days. Rosario left Tuesday night's game after the second inning with a right calf strain. Arenado has been dealing with a bone bruise on his right thumb, and he left Monday night's game after batting once. ... Rockies RHP Rafael Betancourt underwent successful Tommy John surgery Tuesday. The operation, performed by Dr. James Andrews in Florida, and will sideline Betancourt, 38, for the entire 2014 season.