ST. LOUIS -- Flummoxed again by R.A. Dickey and the knuckleball, the Cardinals' only substantial highlight on Wednesday came via a 400-foot blast by Adam Wainwright. Problem was, that solo homer was not nearly enough for Wainwright to offset the damage done against him.
For the second time in the last week, Wainwright was knocked around during an abbreviated start, this one lasting five innings in a 6-2 loss to the Mets. With the defeat, the Cardinals, who maintain possession of one of two National League Wild Card spots, lost a chance to close out the series sweep at Busch Stadium.
For all the excitement Wainwright generated during his personal second-half surge, his last two starts have not followed suit. But for anyone insistent that there is correlation between recent results and his workload on the heels of a lost season, Wainwright wants to make one point emphatically clear.
"I'm not even winded at all," Wainwright said. "My body is physically in shape to pitch a long season. In my mind, I have a good elbow to do it with. I wouldn't say there's any reason at all to start talking about that at all. I had a bad start."
With Wednesday's start in the books, Wainwright has logged 173 2/3 innings. That is far short of the 230 1/3 innings he threw two seasons ago, though that campaign came shortly before Tommy John surgery erased his chance to pitch in 2011.
But to pin two poor starts on fatigue, several Cardinals say, would be to misjudge the true issue at hand, which is that Wainwright has struggled to find a repeatable arm slot and establish fastball command in his past two outings.
"We listen to how he's feeling," manager Mike Matheny said. "We watch and see what it looks like and try to figure out why he's having trouble with one particular thing or another. The velocity is still there. It's just one of those things he's going to have to work through.
"He looks fine to me. Once again, he's gone through some peaks and valleys this season. I think that's to be expected after surgery."
After lasting a career-short 2 2/3 innings against the Nationals on Friday, Wainwright surrendered another five runs on eight hits and two key walks on Wednesday. His arm slot was an issue in both starts, as was Wainwright's inability to put away hitters after getting ahead.
The Mets jumped out to their first lead of the series with a two-out run in the second. Consecutive two-out walks issued by Wainwright forced home another run in the third. But it was Ike Davis' fifth-inning swing that stung much more.
Trailing 2-1, Wainwright threw Davis a curveball that stayed over the middle of the plate with two aboard. Davis sent it over the wall in right field to pad New York's lead.
"I thought it had a chance," said Davis, who has hit a league-best 19 road home runs this year. "It definitely didn't get out by a lot. You never know, the wind gusts, and [maybe] it hits the top of the wall."
Wainwright's third-inning blast cut a 2-0 Mets lead in half. The home run was the first by a Cardinals pitcher this season and the sixth of Wainwright's career.
It was of minimal consolation, though. For Wainwright, the to-do list moving forward is simple: fix his delivery before he takes the mound next week. Velocity and fastball command will be byproducts of getting that right.
"I was having just a little trouble repeating it," Wainwright said of his arm slot. "I'm very, very confident that if I keep putting the proper work into fixing it that I'll be ready for the next start. It's not something that hinders you for a long period of time. You just have to get it back quick."
Aside from Wainwright's homer, Dickey had little trouble maneuvering through a Cardinals lineup that was absent four regular position players. Dickey allowed just five hits through the first six innings.
The Cardinals had better luck in the seventh, chasing Dickey from the game with three singles. But in between, an Allen Craig double-play grounder, which scored one run, thwarted the potential for a much bigger inning.
"That's a tough assignment," Matheny said of facing Dickey. "This guy has a lot of wins for a reason, and he makes a lineup have fits. But we all have to give credit when a guy throws a good game like that. He had that [knuckleball] dancing. He wasn't just serving it up."
With the win, Dickey becomes the Majors' first 18-game winner. Two of those wins have come against the Cardinals, who were held scoreless during Dickey's 5-0 shutout back in June.
"The problem with the knuckleball is that you just don't know what it's going to do," said Lance Berkman, who reached base twice in his first start since Aug. 2. "When you hit, you know what a pitch is going to do by the way it spins, and knuckleballs don't spin. Your brain has no idea which way it's going. You just kind of have to guess where it might end up and take a whack at it."
The Mets extended their lead with a run off reliever Victor Marte in the eighth. Marte, making his first appearance since being recalled from the Minors, did not retire any of the three batters he faced.
Marte's outing followed the highly-anticipated debut by top pitching prospect Shelby Miller, which went much better. Summoned to the Majors on Tuesday, Miller pitched two scoreless innings in his first professional appearance out of the bullpen. He allowed one single and struck out four, including all three batters he faced in the seventh.
"This is obviously," Miller said afterward, "a moment to remember."
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.