By R.B. FALLSTROM
AP Sports Writer
ST. LOUIS — Adam Wainwright ended up one win shy of his first 20-win season last year. He’s determined not to let that happen again.
After pitching eight dominant innings against the San Diego Padres for his 19th win in a 4-1 victory Sunday, the right-hander has two more starts.
“As far as personal goals, 20 would be cool,” Wainwright said. “But I have two starts and 21 would be better.”
Not that he’s given up on the Cardinals’ playoff chances. St. Louis is six games back of the first-place Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central with 14 games to go.
“Obviously, it’s a good milestone to hit as a pitcher,” Wainwright said. “But right now we’re still battling for this division. Until we’re eliminated we’re going to be battling.
“We’re going to try not to get eliminated.”
Colby Rasmus homered and scored twice to back Wainwright (19-11) as the Cardinals took three of four from the Padres, who fell a half-game behind first-place San Francisco in the NL West. The Giants beat Milwaukee 9-2.
Jon Garland (14-12) allowed four runs in seven innings for the Padres, who have lost 12 of their last 13 in St. Louis. San Diego dropped only its second series of the season against an NL Central opponent.
“We definitely can’t hang our heads,” Ryan Ludwick said. “We got a good pitching effort, they got a good pitching effort and we had opportunities.
“We just didn’t get it done when we had those opportunities.”
The Padres get their last day off Monday before opening a three-game series at Los Angeles.
“You can’t go home and get comfortable and relax,” Garland said. “We’ve got to win every game, that’s the way we’ve got to look at it.”
Will Venable had two hits and a walk for the Padres, who are 4-7 in their last 11 and 7-17 since Aug. 26, when they had a 6 1/2-game cushion in the division.
“We’re in a position to continue to make this a great race and we’ve got to focus on our next game, which we will,” manager Bud Black said.
Wainwright won for just the second time in seven starts, allowing a run and five hits with seven strikeouts. The Padres were held hitless until Venable singled to start the sixth. They spoiled a shutout bid on Adrian Gonzalez’s RBI single in the eighth.
Slump or not, Wainwright worked eight innings for the third straight time. He lasted seven innings in two of the other starts during his dry spell, both losses.
“My focus was the best it’s been in a long time,” Wainwright said. “I just grinded it out, made sure I was talking to myself about controlling only what I could control and making each pitch one at a time.”
Ryan Franklin worked the ninth for his 25th save in 27 chances — his first chance since Sept. 5.
The Padres loaded the bases on all three of Wainwright’s walks with two outs in the fourth before Chase Headley struck out. They had two hits in the sixth before Gonzalez flied out and Ludwick grounded out sharply to shortstop to end the inning.
Wainwright is 12-4 at home and has allowed two runs in 22 innings against the Padres, losing 1-0 on May 25 in San Diego. The right-hander, who was 19-8 last year, tied Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay and Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez for the NL lead in wins.
Four straight Cardinals reached with one out in the first, with Matt Holliday getting an RBI single and Pedro Feliz adding a sacrifice fly for a 2-0 lead. Rasmus singled and scored on Brendan Ryan’s sacrifice fly in the fourth, then hit his 23rd homer leading off the sixth.
Rasmus had been 1 for 9 against Garland before going 2 for 2 with a walk.
Garland matched his season high for innings, but is 1-4 with a 5.09 ERA in his last five starts. He beat Wainwright with seven shutout innings May 25.
“It seemed like they came out swinging a lot more,” Garland said. “I made a few adjustments on a few guys, but besides that I’m going to go at it the same way until you prove me wrong.”