ST. LOUIS -- On a day they learned their rotation had been thinned by a season-ending shoulder injury to Carlos Martinez, the Cardinals watched as the oft-injured Jaime Garcia showed himself healthy -- and dominant -- again. With eight strong innings, Garcia boosted the Cardinals to a 5-1 win over the Brewers that helped them maintain a three-game lead in the National League Central.
The Cardinals needed the victory to keep the Pirates from further threatening their division advantage. Pittsburgh had already won its eighth straight by the time the Cardinals took the field. St. Louis' magic number now sits at five, and with Saturday's win, the Cardinals also assured themselves no worse than the first Wild Card spot.
"It's definitely an exciting part of the season, especially how well we're playing," Garcia said afterward. "For me, personally, I'm real excited to be a part of this. But we're not where we want to be yet."
Garcia became the team's fifth 10-game winner while limiting the Brewers to seven hits over eight innings. With an effective sinker, he induced a heavy dose of ground-ball outs while also striking out eight. He was also treated to a quick four-run lead.
"I feel like for three days I don't get anything, and then when he pitches, I get everything all at once," said third baseman Matt Carpenter. "It's fun to play defense behind him."
The Cardinals pounced on Brewers rookie starter Tyler Wagner, who was making just his second Major League start and first since May 31. A two-run single by Kolten Wong capped the Cardinals' four-run first. Left fielder Matt Holliday tagged Wagner for a pair of two-run doubles.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Jolly Holliday: Starting on back-to-back days for the first time since aggravating a quad injury on July 29, Holliday delivered RBI doubles in the first and second innings. Holliday, who entered the game 1-for-8, played seven innings after not having lasted more than six in either of his previous two starts. He became the first Cardinals player since Gerald Perry (1992) to connect for RBI doubles in each of the first two innings.
"Just a real nice stroke, with the ball jumping off his bat," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "You get guys on base, and then he's driving them in. That's the guy we want him to be." More >
In and out: Wagner, summoned from Double-A Biloxi earlier this week after winning the Southern League ERA title, surrendered five runs before recording his sixth out and was out of the game before the start of the fifth inning. But he spared himself more damage by inducing double plays in three of his four innings, including a terrific turn by shortstop Jean Segura and second baseman Yadiel Rivera in the fourth that followed Rivera's throwing error on another potential double-play grounder.
"When he's right, it's going to be lots of ground balls," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "There's going to be lots of contact."
Frenetic first: The Cardinals ambushed Wagner in the first inning, scoring four times and sending eight batters to the plate. It was the team's most fruitful opening frame since Aug. 25, when they scored four first-inning runs in a win over Arizona. The quick start positioned the Cardinals well, as they entered the game with a 66-14 record in games in which they scored at least four.
"This isn't a team you want to leave hanging around," Wong said. "They have a bunch of young guys who are really talented. The thing you want to do is try to get ahead early and keep them down as much as you can."
They're official: Outfielder Michael Reed and right-hander Adrian Houser became the 10th and 11th players to make their Major League debuts for the Brewers this season, Reed smacking a pinch-hit double in the sixth inning and Houser working around a single and a walk in a scoreless eighth. Cardinals fans offered a respectful ovation for Reed after he doubled down the left-field line in his first Major League at-bat, and Reed promptly scored the first run of his career on Jonathan Lucroy's single.
"I can't even explain how awesome it was," Reed said. More >
"It's pretty historic. I don't think anybody's been a part of a division like that. It almost seems impossible that, as much as we play in the division, that three teams could have this many wins. It just goes to show you we played really well out of the division." -- Holliday, on the Cardinals (98 wins), Pirates (95) and Cubs (89) still boasting the NL's three best records
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Saturday's win improved the Cardinals to 55-25 at home this season. Only two times in franchise history has the club finished with more home wins. The 1943 team had 53, one year after posting a 60-win season at home. The 1927 Cardinals also had 55 home victories.
For the Brewers the defeat sealed 90-plus losses for the first time since 2004.
Only hours after learning the news on Martinez, the Cardinals had to remove Carpenter before the start of the sixth due to tightness in his left hip. The team announced the move as precautionary, and Carpenter was already lobbying Matheny to put him back in the lineup on Sunday. More >
WHAT'S NEXT Brewers: Sunday starter Tyler Cravy is 0-8 with a 6.21 ERA, including 0-6 with a 6.52 ERA as a starter, but at least he'll return to the scene of his greatest success. The right-handed rookie made his debut on Busch Stadium on June 2 and dueled Jaime Garcia for seven innings of a 1-0 Brewers loss, allowing that Cardinals run on only four hits.
Cardinals: In their final regular-season game at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals will close out a four-game series against the Brewers by sending their best home pitcher to the mound. John Lackey, who has a 1.97 home ERA this season, is looking to become the fourth pitcher to have a 10-win season at Busch Stadium III. First pitch is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. CT.