Wainwright walked three, two of them in succession, in the third inning as he loaded the bases. But one of his career-high eight strikeouts then came when he caught third baseman Ryan Braun looking at a 3-2 curveball.
"He's hitting .350 for a reason," said Wainwright of Braun. But Wainwright also said, "I was confident I was going to get him out. If he's going to beat me, he's going to beat me with my best stuff."
Asked if he was more "up" for this game because of the Cardinals' emergence as contenders, Wainwright said, "I treat every game like it's the World Series. Then, if you do get to the World Series, you're not surprised."
At the time of Wainwright's strikeout of Braun, the Cardinals led 1-0 on catcher Yadier Molina's second homer of the season. Molina then cracked his second homer of the game, a two-run shot in the fourth. He is four for seven against Brewers right-hander Dave Bush, who was beaten twice by Molina on breaking balls.
The Cardinals are only 2-1/2 games behind first-place Milwaukee in the National League Central Division. They haven't been that close to first place since April 20.
"We knew we had to win three games in a row, and we did," said Molina.
Manager Tony La Russa, whose team is two games shy of .500 for the first time since April, said, "We want to have some of that contention fun over the last six weeks. We've got a chance. We're excited. But we're a long way from happy."
CARDINALS 8, BREWERS 0: The Cardinals completed a three-game sweep of reeling Milwaukee, outscoring the Brewers 28-7 in the series. Yadier Molina's two homers accounted for three runs and all the scoring until the ninth inning, when the Cardinals scored five runs, three of them crossing on David Eckstein's bases-loaded double. The Cardinals' winning streak increased to a season-high five games.
NOTES AND QUOTES
--CF Jim Edmonds came out early in Wednesday night's game with pain from a pinched nerve in his back. But Edmonds played Thursday, though he went 0-for-5. "We're playing for first place," said Edmonds.
--The Cardinals will make their second and final visit to Chicago's Wrigley Field beginning Friday. All four starters except RHP Adam Wainwright will pitch in the series.
--Lost in the brilliant pitching by Wainwright and C Yadier Molina's two home runs was some first-rate defense by 3B Scott Rolen, who robbed Milwaukee CF Bill Hall of two hits. After one diving stop, he threw from his back to retire Hall.
--OF Juan Encarnacion might be ready to play in Chicago, but manager Tony La Russa indicated that he didn't expect Encarnacion, bothered by a sore left knee, would be available for much more than spot duty.
--OF Rick Ankiel was out of the starting lineup for the first time since coming up from Class AAA Memphis, but he walked and scored as a pinch hitter in the five-run ninth inning.