This past winter as he ruminated over his outings in the World Series and a few starts last season against teams, like the Reds, that appeared to have him decoded, Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright realized that to be the pitcher he wanted to be, he had to go to a place he had not been.

Too often he kept his pitches to one side of home plate.

He had to find the other side.

Once there, it’s taken him to another level.

Fresh from the first one-hitter of his career, Wainwright tied a career high with 12 strikeouts as he fired eight scoreless innings against Cincinnati in a 4-0 victory Sunday night at Great American Ball Park. The Reds, a team that tattooed Wainwright with memorable bruises at the end of last season, got an eyeful of Wainwright’s new look. He struck out five of the first six batters he faced. He bent a 66 mph cascade curveball – one that dropped as suddenly and gently as a waterfall – past Brandon Philips, and he spun an 86 mph cutter that veered in on Skip Schumaker for a key strikeout in the seventh. He is the National League’s first eight-game winner, and he teases a shutout weekly.

Twice a runner-up for the Cy Young Award, Wainwright (8-2) has often been good. But he’s never been this good.

“I’ve never felt like this,” Wainwright said. “That’s part of the evolution of me out there. I expected to get better as I got older, a little wiser. I saw (Chris Carpenter) do that. That’s what I want to be. I think I should be getting better.”

In his first start of the season as Wainwright’s receiver, backup catcher Tony Cruz had the single that started the Cardinals’ first rally and the single that saved their second. He had two base hits, a run and an RBI as the Cardinals took a 2-0 lead. They doubled it with the help of two Cincinnati errors in the seventh inning. The victory, the Cardinals’ ninth in their past 11 games, sends them back to Busch Stadium to face the Yankees this afternoon after winning another series from the rival Reds. The Cardinals have taken 10 of the last 11 series from Cincinnati.

The second-place Cardinals’ rush to Memorial Day has put them ahead of the slowest pace for any Mike Matheny club through 50 games. Despite taking the scenic, circuitous, and at times unpaved route, the Cardinals are 28-22 through 50 games, one game better than Matheny’s first club, in 2012.