AP Sports Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- So Adam Wainwright finally walked a batter. Knew he would, of course.
It was one of the few blemishes for the St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Tuesday night.
After starting the season by throwing 34 2-3 innings without issuing a free pass, Wainwright walked Washington's Bryce Harper to load the bases in the sixth, then followed up by striking out cleanup hitter Adam LaRoche to get out of the jam. All in all, Wainwright extended his sterling start to 2013 -- and Washington's mediocre one -- by coming within two outs of his second shutout, leading the Cardinals past the Nationals 2-0.
"I wasn't going to go the whole season without walking somebody," Wainwright said. "I wanted the game to dictate when that was OK to do, and right there I felt like pitching him tough -- even though I'm loading the bases for a tough hitter, LaRoche -- Bryce Harper, he can hurt you in a lot of different ways."
Manager Mike Matheny joked about Wainwright's long stretch without throwing four balls to a batter, calling it a "walk-less streak," then asking: "Is there such a word, a 'walk-less' streak?"
On a more serious note, Matheny -- a former catcher -- said: "The one walk was one of my favorite things. It was smart pitching."
Wainwright (4-1) lowered his ERA to 1.93 by going 8 1-3 scoreless innings, allowing only five hits and striking out nine, before Edward Mujica got the final two outs for his third save.
"I haven't done that too many times, where I go out for the ninth and don't finish it," Wainwright said.
But Matheny did come out to yank the righty after Wainwright gave up Harper's leadoff double, then struck out his buddy LaRoche for the fourth time.
"There's nothing easy about pulling him out right there. I told him I didn't appreciate that look he gave me," Matheny said with a chuckle about his pitcher. "I was just kidding; I didn't even see him look, for the record."
Jayson Werth, LaRoche, Ian Desmond, Anthony Rendon and Danny Espinosa -- Washington's 2-4-5-6-7 hitters -- went a combined 0 for 18.
Wainwright needed all of four pitches to record three outs in the fifth inning, as Desmond, Rendon and Espinosa all grounded out. That gave Wainwright 13 consecutive outs.
And he took only five pitches to get through the seventh against that same trio.
"He was just working the corners well. Cutter. Sinker. Both sides of the plate. His curveball, he was throwing for a strike. ... It's a big, big looping curveball," Espinosa said. "He's got his stuff going right now."
Allen Craig and Carlos Beltran drove in runs in the fourth off Nationals lefty Ross Detwiler (1-1), who gave up eight hits across six innings.
Detwiler benefited from four double plays over the first five innings, including a nifty one started by second baseman Espinosa with a backhanded flip from his glove to shortstop Desmond. In the only early inning without a double play, the fourth, the Cardinals got to Detwiler with four consecutive opposite-field hits by right-handed batters that produced the two runs.
The Nationals, who led the majors with 98 wins last season and were a popular pick to do well in 2013, lost for the eighth time in their past 11 games to fall to 10-10.
"I'm usually pretty patient, but I'm getting at my rope's end," manager Davey Johnson said. "The effort's there, but we're just not getting it done. We've got the players to get it done. We're just not getting it done. It's time to get a little mad."
Johnson promised lineup changes for Wednesday's series finale.
General manager Mike Rizzo, meanwhile, said: "I'm going to stick with our team. We're going to win a lot of games this year. ... I like our team. I wouldn't trade our team for any team in baseball right now."
Washington dropped its fifth consecutive home game, and there even were scattered chants of "Let's go, Cardinals!" among the announced crowd of 29,986.
Before the game, Johnson spoke about some of his hitters and pitchers "trying to do too much," perhaps as a result of the expectations the club faced entering the season.
"Maybe from everybody picking us as a candidate to win our division," Johnson said, "everybody's trying to be a little better than they need to be."
Of course, it was Johnson who came up with the phrase "World Series or bust" to describe what the Nationals have said will be his final season as their manager.