WASHINGTON -- Only one thing could have put a damper on Adam Wainwright's dominating start -- not being able to finish it.
"I was very disappointed," the Cardinals' ace said after being pulled with two outs remaining in St. Louis' 2-0 victory over slumping Washington on Tuesday. "When you go out for the ninth inning with a borderline pitch count, you have to get the leadoff guy out. So I was so mad when Bryce Harper got on base. Just get him out and then I finish that game."
Wainwright nearly tossed his second complete game of the season, but Harper's leadoff double and a rising pitch count kept him from doing so.
However, Wainwright did close his impressive night by striking out Adam LaRoche for the fourth time before giving way to Edward Mujica, who picked up his third save by registering the final two outs.
"It was extremely difficult," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of pulling Wainwright. "It was probably the best breaking ball he had, but he was locating his fastball."
It seemed as if Wainwright (4-1) barely broke a sweat through most of the game, allowing just five hits and only running into trouble in the sixth inning, when the Nationals loaded the bases with two singles and a walk to Harper -- Wainwright's first free pass of the season.
"It was smart pitching," Matheny said. "I knew he was going to pitch Bryce tough there. He stuck with his game plan."
Wainwright followed by striking out LaRoche, firing a rising fastball past the Nationals' cleanup hitter, to get out of the jam.
"Obviously, he had my number tonight," LaRoche said. "Struck out four times and left 100 runners on base."
Wainwright entered the game a pedestrian 1-2 with a 6.00 ERA in five games in Washington, but he was in command early, striking out six hitters during the first four innings.
"My stuff was good tonight," Wainwright said. "I felt good early and I tried to command what I was doing. It's a very, very solid lineup over there and they've gotten some numbers on me in the past. I knew that you could go two ways with it: You either remember those games and give them too much credit and go out there defeated already, or you say, 'No, I'm a good enough pitcher to get anyone out.' That's what I chose to do."
Washington has now lost four or five overall and five straight at Nationals Park to fall to .500 in a season with World Series aspirations. Frustrated manager Davey Johnson said changes would be on the horizon for Wednesday's game.
"I'm usually pretty patient, but I'm getting at my rope's end," he said. "The effort is there, but we're just not getting it done. It's time to get a little mad."
Ross Detwiler (1-1) was the hard-luck loser for Washington, who gave up two runs in six innings of work. The lefty has allowed just five runs in four starts.
St. Louis broke open a pitchers' duel in the fourth inning by stringing four straight hits off Detwiler, including an RBI double by Allen Craig and a run-scoring single from Carlos Beltran to make it 2-0.
The Nationals kept Detwiler out of more trouble by turning a season-high four double plays over the first five innings.
NOTES: Cardinals CF Jon Jay, in the midst of a 2-for-23 skid, was replaced in the lineup by Shane Robinson, who batted leadoff. Jay is hitting .197, but Matheny is confident Jay will turn things around. "He's going to be a big part of what we've got going forward," the Cardinals skipper said. ... Washington closer Rafael Soriano was back with the club after being placed on paternity leave Monday to be with his wife as she gave birth to a boy. ... Nationals manager Davey Johnson admitted his team may be pressing a bit through the first month of the season in response to the lofty expectations. "Everybody is trying to be a little better than they need to be," he said. ... Beltran's RBI single in the fourth extended his hitting streak to eight games, tying a team high. ... Harper was 2-for-3 for his 10th multi-hit game of the season. This one was the first the Nationals have lost, however.