SAN FRANCISCO -- It was not in manager Mike Matheny's initial plans to thrust his rookie outfielder into center field so soon, but on the heels of being shut out for a second straight game, the Cardinals were willing to take a hit to the defense if it meant a few more for the team.
Eight turned out to be enough.
Adam Wainwright played stopper to the Cardinals' three-game skid, taking two runs of support and making it stand in a 2-0 victory over the Giants in front of 41,321 at AT&T Park. The victory made Wainwright the National League's first 11-game winner, and with 7 2/3 scoreless innings, he lowered his ERA to an NL-best 1.89.
"This isn't the first time that he has righted the ship when we're going through a rough patch and it won't be the last," said Matt Carpenter, who delivered the game-winning RBI hit. "He's the guy we call on when we need a jolt, and he answered the bell today."
While Wainwright continues to strengthen his case for an All-Star Game start, this night was all about jump-starting a club that had fallen flat. The Cardinals, unable to win behind Wainwright's complete-game effort in Los Angeles last week, didn't waste another gem.
Held scoreless for 26 consecutive innings, the Cardinals tallied two runs on four hits off Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong in the third. The rally started with a leadoff double by the recently recalled Oscar Taveras, who was placed in center as part of Matheny's offensively minded lineup.
"That's what we were asking for, right?" Matheny said. "Get somebody in there who can help get something going."
Mark Ellis followed with a single, and, after Wainwright was unable to put the ball in play, Carpenter gave the Cardinals their first lead since Friday. Carpenter had the Cardinals' only run-scoring hit since then, too, until Matt Holliday followed Carpenter's RBI single with his own.
"We haven't really been keeping up with how many innings in a row or whatever it was," said Carpenter, now 26-for-50 against the Giants. "But certainly we knew we hadn't been scoring runs, and when we score a few runs for Waino, we know we have a chance to win."
The Cardinals had only one more hit during Vogelsong's seven-inning start, but Wainwright allowed that to be overlooked. Facing a Giants team that had knocked him around for seven runs in 4 1/3 innings (Wainwright's worst start of the season), the veteran right-hander tossed his eighth scoreless start this season.
However, it was not necessarily as easy as Wainwright's final line of four singles and two walks looked.
Though the Giants did not seriously threaten until the eighth, they extended at-bats and weren't often lured into swinging at pitches outside the zone. He got few swing-and-misses, lots of foul balls and only one strikeout, that not coming until the seventh.
"I thought they battled me very tough all night long," Wainwright said. "They took a lot of really close pitches and fouled off some tough pitches. They did a great job of getting my count up early."
He kept his infielders busy, as a result, as he recorded only four outfield outs. The Cardinals turned two double plays behind Wainwright, who also benefited from Carpenter's leaping nab of Pablo Sandoval's line drive in the fourth.
"It's nice the guys were grinding out some at-bats, but it's all about putting some men on base, creating those chances and somebody's got to come through," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "We only had two or three decent chances and couldn't get the hit. He's one of the best in the game."
Wainwright's five-pitch seventh earned him the chance to return for the eighth. He was on the cusp of completing eight innings for the ninth time in 17 outings before Giants knocked him out with consecutive, two-out singles.
With Sam Freeman and Pat Neshek both ready, Matheny turned to the righty Neshek to face left-handed hitting Gregor Blanco. Neshek, after falling behind, 3-1, ended the threat with a popout.
"I was trying to get him to swing early in the count," Neshek said. "I was shocked he wouldn't bite at anything. He was patient. He was tough. He had a great at-bat."
"He's our guy," Matheny added of Neshek, "and he came through big for us."
Trevor Rosenthal sealed his 25th save by working through the middle of the Giants' order and three times retiring the potential tying run.
And so as offensively challenged as the Cardinals have been in the final two stops of this three-city road trip, they left the ballpark Wednesday still with a chance for a .500 road trip.
"Everybody in this clubhouse knows that we have not hit our stride yet," Wainwright said. "We have not played the ball that we know we can play. We're just going to keep going out there and battling until those tides will turn. Great teams find a way to make things happen eventually, and we're going to do that."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.