ST. LOUIS -- The ninth inning Friday night in Busch Stadium was old school baseball.
St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright wasn't about to let anyone else finish what he started, no matter how many pitches the job required.
On his 128th pitch of the evening, Wainwright completed the game and took the National League lead in wins as the Cardinals subdued Atlanta 3-1.
Moments after Matt Holliday caught Andrelton Simmons' towering fly ball in left field to secure Wainwright's fifth complete game of the year, Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina embraced while the crowd of 41,134 roared.
"That was as good as I've felt all year," Wainwright said.
In improving to 15-7, Wainwright allowed just six hits and fanned nine without a walk for his 16th career complete game, giving St. Louis (75-53) its eighth win in 11 games. It drew the Cardinals within a half-game of NL Central leader Pittsburgh, pending the outcome of the Pirates' late game in San Francisco.
Holliday's 432-foot homer into the second deck in left field off Kris Medlen (10-12) in the bottom of the sixth snapped a 1-1 tie. Molina went 3-for-4 and scored two runs, while Jon Jay added two hits and knocked in the game's first run.
But the night was all about Wainwright, who had all his pitches working and turned in a gem that gave the shorthanded bullpen -- closer Edward Mujica (back stiffness) was unavailable for a second straight night -- a needed breather.
"That's as good as you can ask for," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Wainwright.
Matheny rode his 6-foot-7 horse at every opportunity. In the bottom of the seventh, with the bases loaded and one out, Matheny could have pinch-hit for Wainwright. But he let the pitcher hit and was rewarded with a sacrifice fly to deep center that upped the lead to two runs.
Wainwright sprinted to the mound before the ninth, sending the message that he wasn't going to cede this one to temporary closer Trevor Rosenthal or anyone else. Even after Chris Johnson's one-out single, Matheny stuck with Wainwright.
After whiffing Brian McCann with a curve ball in the dirt for the second out, Wainwright needed just one pitch to retire Simmons.
"That was really the only mistake I made all night," Wainwright said. "That could have been really ugly."
Medlen matched Wainwright pitch-for-pitch most of the night. After yielding consecutive doubles to Molina and Jay in the second for St. Louis' first run, Medlen retired the next 12 hitters on just 38 pitches.
But Holliday's 17th homer and the insurance run in the seventh turned Medlen's superb outing into merely a quality start -- six innings, six hits and three runs.
"I thought Kris was amazing," McCann said. "To get into the seventh inning with only 77 pitches against that lineup ... it's a shame we couldn't have won it for him."
Medlen even helped the Braves (77-51) score their only run, leading off the sixth with a single and eventually coming around on Freddie Freeman's two-out RBI hit to right-center.
Right before Freeman's hit, right fielder Justin Upton was ejected by plate umpire Paul Nauert after bouncing out to second. Upton, who threw his bat and helmet after taking a called third strike in the fourth inning, turned and gestured in Nauert's direction after his sixth-inning out.
Upton said after the game that his actions were misinterpreted.
But Wainwright's performance left no room for doubt.
"Very, very impressive," Matheny said. "You could tell he still had something in the tank in the ninth inning."
NOTES: St. Louis put RHP Jake Westbrook on the disabled list Friday with a lower back strain and called up RHP Carlos Martinez from Memphis (Triple-A). Westbrook is 7-8 with a 4.49 earned run average and has lost his last four decisions, dating back to July 24, as he's struggled with the ailment. ... Matheny announced that LHP Tyler Lyons will take Westbrook's place in the rotation for Monday night's series opener with Cincinnati. Martinez will work out of the bullpen ... Atlanta put RHP Brandon Beachy (right elbow inflammation) on the disabled list and called up OF Todd Cunningham from Gwinnett (Triple-A). Beachy was scheduled to start Sunday's series finale, but has been replaced by LHP Mike Minor ... The Braves also acquired veteran RHP Freddy Garcia from Baltimore for cash considerations.