St. Louis starter Wainwright went the distance in a 6-1 victory over the Pirates in the NL Division Series decider and said his disappointing performance at exactly the same stage last year had been his motivation.
The right-hander with the knee-buckling curve ball was pounded by the Washington Nationals in the 2012 NLDS Game Five, giving up six runs and three homers in just over two innings before the Cards battled back for a 9-7 victory.
"It's hard not to think back to what happened in Game Five last year," Wainwright said. "And I wanted to prove I can be a good playoff pitcher."
Wainwright has proven himself again and again, but he used that memory to drive him and the Cardinals into the NL Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers starting in St. Louis on Friday.
"We'll take him on the mound any day, especially in a big situation," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. "He's done such a good job leading our pitching staff."
Wainwright has been the steadying veteran influence on a staff full of brilliant young talent, such as 22-year-old rookie Michael Wacha, who has nearly thrown no-hitters in his last two outings.
"He's had a tough job with so many young guys. You've got a lot of teaching to do, but you better be able to back it up," said Matheny. "He's done an incredible job on both sides, teaching and showing by example how you go about your business."
Wainwright shut down the Pirates on two hits through six innings before allowing his only run when Pittsburgh strung together three two-out infield hits in a row.
He scattered eight hits in all, walked one and struck out six.
David Freese, whose two-run home run in the second inning provided Wainwright with all the runs he would need, summed up Wainwright's importance to the Cards.
"He's our bulldog," he said. "He's our ace."
Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said Wainwright was the Pirates' biggest obstacle during the series.
"I've watched him close (games), I've watched him start," said Hurdle. "He's a pro, an absolute pro. He's an elite pitcher in this game."