ST. LOUIS -- In all those years playing on central Pennsylvania ballfields, then at a Division II university and later while climbing through the system as a power prospect, first baseman Matt Adams never glided around the bases the way he did on Monday.
On a night when rain delayed the start of the game and Pittsburgh monopolized the basepaths, Adams mesmerized with one swing. He lifted a lagging offense with a two-run homer in the ninth, sending the Cardinals back into second place in the National League Central with a 2-0 victory over the Pirates in front of a sellout crowd of 42,448 at Busch Stadium.
The jolt was a long time coming for the Cardinals, the only team without a walk-off homer over the past two seasons. David Freese's stunner in the 2011 World Series was the team's last. And Adams, as glittery as his career numbers may be, had never hit one at any level.
"I don't think I touched the dirt the whole way around," Adams said. "This is unbelievable. I don't even know what to say."
The hit was one of only three on the night for the Cardinals, who were helpless against Pirates sinkerballer Charlie Morton. But the Redbirds' pitching, as it has with regularity this season, bought time as they awaited the big hit.
Adam Wainwright danced around trouble in every inning to cover the first seven scoreless frames, Sam Freeman struck out Pirates prospect Gregory Polanco to leave the bases full in the eighth and Pat Neshek pitched a perfect ninth.
Adams' blast off Justin Wilson's hanging curveball sealed the team's 17th shutout, a Major League most. Pittsburgh's lefty had allowed one home run in his previous 103 appearances.
"It was exactly what we were hoping for," said manager Mike Matheny, whose club has three walk-offs this season. "We were able to get Adams up there to do something special."
The Cardinals have leaned heavily on Adams since he returned from the disabled list on June 13. Adams announced his comeback by homering in three straight games, all St. Louis wins. He has seven homers in 22 games (84 at-bats), only three fewer than the rest of the team has in the same span.
Adams, 8-for-12 on this homestand, has driven in 23 percent of the Cardinals' runs since rejoining the lineup and finds himself as the new three-hole hitter. His slugging percentage, .474 when he landed on the DL, is .679 since being activated.
"I wanted to make sure I got better strike zone discipline," he said. "I just wanted to see the ball better. That's one of the things I worked on down in Triple-A when I was rehabbing, and it's still working right now. We're just going to continue to ride it out."
Adams' blast sugarcoated an offensive night that was otherwise not too sweet for the Cardinals. Morton began the night with a 2-10 record, 6.11 ERA and .331 opponent's batting average in 15 previous starts against the Cardinals. In this one he allowed one hit -- Adams' first-inning double.
"We will tip our cap every once in a while, but it seems like we're doing an awful lot of tipping," Matheny said, referencing the recurring lack-of-offensive theme. "We have too many talented players to be doing that too often. … It just seems like we're getting the best of what they've got no matter who we're playing."
The only time the Cardinals got to Morton was when he was standing on the on-deck circle. Kolten Wong's fumble on what would have been the third out of the eighth inning brought up Morton's spot in the order with the bases full, forcing the Pirates to pull him at 84 pitches.
Wainwright couldn't match Morton in crispness, but he did on the scoreboard. It was a labor-intensive night for the staff ace, who described himself afterward as having "the command of an A-ball pitcher." His delivery wasn't always repeatable, and his fastball was spotty, though his curveball did get better as he went deeper.
"He showed his ability and his resilience to continue to make pitches out of the stretch and not let us cross the plate," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We did everything we wanted to do on offense except touch home."
Wainwright lowered his NL-best ERA to 1.79 despite not having a clean inning. He walked three and scattered seven hits, six of which were singles. The leadoff batter reached against him four times, and Wainwright had three innings in which he threw more than 20 pitches.
But he stranded nine runners, including six in scoring position, to notch his eighth scoreless start of the season. A pair of double plays helped him get out of trouble, as did Matt Carpenter's quick glove and throw to retire Andrew McCutchen by a step with a runner on third in the fifth.
"A couple of times, I had tough situations where I walked somebody or gave up a hit to get to McCutchen with runners on the bases," Wainwright said. "It's poor planning. We're fortunate to come away with the win there."
Wainwright's night ended after he retired McCutchen for the fourth time, this time with two onboard, on his 112th pitch.
"To watch him do that, just with heart and his mind, and try and figure out ways to get guys out when he didn't have much," Matheny said, "he did an incredible job of pitching today."
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.