ST. LOUIS — Adam Wainwright bolted out of the dugout before the bottom of the ninth inning. No way was the St. Louis Cardinals' ace coming out of this one.
Wainwright persuaded manager Mike Matheny, a former four-time Gold Glove catcher who handled the right-hander's warmup tosses before the ninth, to finish the game. Then he put the finishing touch on his NL-leading 15th win and fifth complete game for a 3-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Friday night.
"He's our horse," Matheny said. "Those are the kind of statements your ace loves to make. That was his game."
Wainwright joked that the manager was out there to "size me up a little bit," and Matheny said the pitches had plenty of heat.
"I like to do that, let them know that I'm not tired and ready to battle for those last three outs," said Wainwright who had a key sacrifice fly. "It's always good to do that and I feel like our team needed it."
Matt Holliday's 432-foot home run off Kris Medlen (10-12) snapped a sixth-inning tie for St. Louis, which took the first two games of a four-game set against the NL East leaders.
Having already thrown 101 pitches, Wainwright was allowed to bat with the one out and the bases loaded in the seventh inning and hit a long sacrifice fly off Scott Downs for his third RBI of the season to make it 3-1. He then retired the side in order in the eighth and worked around a one-hit single to Chris Johnson in the ninth on a night when the Cardinals didn't have their closer.
Edward Mujica was unavailable for the second straight game with back and neck pain that he believed was caused by working two innings three straight times. He felt much better after visiting a chiropractor, played catch before the game and said he'd be ready Saturday.
"I feel good but I didn't want to force it today," Mujica said. "I'm much better than two days ago."
Medlen singled to lead off the sixth and scored on Freddie Freeman's second hit of the game and retired 12 in a row at one point. But he allowed Holliday's 17th homer on a liner deep into the left field stands. He's lost his last two times out, including a relief appearance in a 15-inning game, and wasn't pleased about getting taken out after 78 pitches.
"I thought I was cruising pretty good," Medlen said. "I hadn't had to battle yet but I wasn't given the opportunity, so I guess I'm voicing the fact that I didn't appreciate that."
The Cardinals lost three in a row at Atlanta to start a seven-game losing streak in late July that knocked them out of the Central lead and entered the night a game behind Pittsburgh. Wainwright (15-7) took one of the losses in that series, but the Brunswick, Ga., native is 7-2 against the Braves.
Wainwright allowed a run on six hits with no walks and nine strikeouts, passing injured teammate Chris Carpenter for third on the franchise career list and putting him just six behind Dizzy Dean for second, and he has 16 career complete games. He's worked seven or more innings seven straight starts and retired 10 in a row at one point.
Yadier Molina had three hits with a pair of doubles to raise his NL-leading average to .337, five points ahead of the Johnson, who had a pair of singles.
Molina doubled and Jon Jay singled to open the seventh and chase Medlen. Downs got a brief reprieve earlier in the inning when a wild pitch ricocheted back to catcher Brian McCann.
The Braves' Justin Upton was ejected in the sixth for arguing with home plate umpire Paul Nauert after a groundout. He believed he'd been tossed because he'd cursed himself leaving the box and "heard something I didn't say."
"To be honest, if I can't get frustrated with myself and say what I want to myself, then it's really sad," Upton said. "I have no clue what he heard and it's just sad."
NOTES: Braves SS Andrelton Simmons made an outstanding sliding catch on Kolten Wong's foul popup in the second. ... B.J. Upton snapped an 0-for-25 slump with a single in the second. ... Wainwright tied his career best for complete games in a season, also throwing five in 2010. He threw a season-high 128 pitches, second most in his career. ... Molina is batting .419 (13 for 31) with seven doubles in seven games since coming off the 15-day disabled list from a knee injury. The Cardinals are 6-1 in that stretch. ... Freeman is 12 for 27 (.444) during a six-game hitting streak.