ST. LOUIS -- His club knotted in a Wild Card race that offers little room for error, manager Mike Matheny simply could not justify letting starter Jaime Garcia try to fight the fatigue and correct the mechanical issues that surfaced again on Tuesday.
With the Cubs one hit away from blowing open a game that could have positioned them for a division-clinching celebration at Busch Stadium, Matheny made a move steeped in urgency. Thus the game became Alex Reyes' to control, and he did just that to help lift the Cardinals to a 4-2 victory that enabled them to keep pace with the Mets in the Wild Card race.
"When it doesn't look right, we have to figure it out," Matheny said. "We were up against a wall. That was a swing point of that game, and Alex did something special to keep us in it."
Now the question becomes whether Reyes, after bailing out Garcia, replaces Garcia in the rotation. Garcia's next start would come on Sunday in what sets up to be a critical game against the Wild Card-leading Giants. Asked if it is a start Garcia would make, Matheny hedged.
"We'll see," he said.
Garcia's issues on Tuesday were hardly isolated. He entered the night on the heels of a 3 2/3-inning start against the Brewers and had posted an 8.06 ERA over his previous five outings. Tuesday began with Dexter Fowler tattooing Garcia's fifth pitch for a home run. An inning later, a leadoff walk and subsequent double put the Cardinals behind by two.
It was at that point that Reyes started warming up. Garcia's night ended four batters later, and he could not finish two innings for the first time in his career.
"All I can say is that I'm doing everything that's within my control to be the best that I can for my team," Garcia said. "Unfortunately, I haven't been able to do that. I've let my team down."
Garcia acknowledged feeling fatigue, and it's not a stretch to believe given his workload. Though this is his eighth season in the big leagues, it's the first since 2011 that he has pitched without injury. From 2012 to 2014, Garcia threw a combined 220 2/3 innings. Last year he logged 129 2/3. This year his total already sits at 164 2/3.
That fatigue has led to breakdowns within his mechanics.
"I'm disappointed in myself right now," he said. "I'm not doing my job right now. I have to continue to figure out what it is and continue to fight for my team."
And the Cardinals have to figure out whether they trust Garcia to fix his issues in the middle of a pennant race. In Reyes they have a raw rookie -- evidenced by the six walks he issued in 4 1/3 innings on Tuesday -- but also one with a special three-pitch repertoire that allows him to pitch around trouble.
Reyes struck out NL MVP candidate Kris Bryant to escape Garcia's bases-loaded jam in the second and then kept the Cubs hitless in four chances with a runner in scoring position over the next two innings. Reyes emerged as the pitcher the Cardinals trust in a precarious spot and one Matheny said he had considered as a closer option while Seung Hwan Oh remains unavailable.
The Cardinals now have to decide where he fits best next.
"It's a crazy push," Matheny said of throwing Reyes into that spot. "I felt he was our best chance to get out of it with the stuff he's been throwing. He's continued to have the same demeanor and same answer every time we give him something tough. We were in a spot where we have to go with we think is best. He's been on that list."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.