SAN FRANCISCO -- The conclusion of a four-game set at AT&T Park on Sunday may have ushered in the final fortnight of the regular season, but it did nothing to separate a pair of Wild Card contenders standing precisely as they were when the series began. On the heels of an emotional, come-from-behind win, the Cardinals sealed a series split with Sunday's 3-0 victory, one highlighted by a spectacular start from rookie Alex Reyes.
The Cardinals' ninth shutout win of the season pulled them to within one game of the Giants in the National League Wild Card standings. However, while these two clubs battled to a series split, the Mets inched ahead of both. New York holds a one-game advantage over San Francisco.
"Coming into the series, you know it's going to be a playoff atmosphere," Reyes said. "Being on the field for the first time in San Francisco, it was fun. It's amazing. I try not to think about [the magnitude] and just try to go out there and give my team a chance to win and execute pitches."
Informed three days ago that he would be replacing a struggling Jaime Garcia in the Cardinals' rotation, Reyes delivered the best performance of his budding career. The organization's top prospect dazzled over seven scoreless innings, during which he held San Francisco hitless in six chances with a runner in scoring position. Reyes wrapped up his third career start with a nine-pitch seventh inning, indicative of the efficiency he showed throughout his 84-pitch afternoon.
"He's got great stuff; that's why he's one of the top prospects," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, whose club remained five back of the Dodgers in the NL West race. "We created some pretty good chances, just couldn't get them in today."
Reyes was staked to a two-run lead when fellow rookie Aledmys Diaz took Giants starter Albert Suarez deep with a third-inning homer. Those would be the only runs allowed by the rookie Suarez over his five-inning appearance.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Power play: Yet again, the Cardinals generated most of their scoring via the long ball. The team received its NL-leading 209th home run from Diaz, who had been 0-for-9 in his previous two starts in this series. Diaz followed a two-out double by Matt Carpenter with a home run into the left-field seats. Of the four hits the shortstop has tallied in 18 at-bats since returning from the disabled list, two have been homers.
"It was nice seeing Diaz make something happen there," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "Just nice to have him back all the way around and give Alex a little bit of room."
Opportunity squandered: The Giants were hard-pressed for scoring opportunities. But they appeared primed to jump on Reyes in the sixth inning, after the right-hander's errant throw to first allowed Brandon Crawford and Denard Span to get into scoring position with one out. Reyes silenced the rally, though, striking out Hunter Pence before forcing Eduardo Nunez to fly out two at-bats later. The Giants were shut out for the 12th time this season.
"With that kind of stuff, he got out of it," said Bochy. "We need those timely hits and we left those guys on base today."
The Final Boss: Cardinals closer Seung Hwan Oh, pitching on consecutive days for the first time all month, showed no lingering effects from a recent groin injury while breezing through a 1-2-3 ninth. Sunday marked the first time this season that Oh has taken the mound a day after making a two-inning appearance. His 18 saves are the second-most by a Cardinals rookie closer in franchise history.
Solid Suarez: Suarez became the first Giants pitcher since Ryan Jensen in 2001 to hold opponents to three runs or fewer in his first 11 career starts. The rookie right-hander worked his way out of multiple jams and finished his outing after allowing two runs in five innings. But Diaz made him pay for his only mistake.
"I felt pretty good, " Suarez said. "If I threw that pitch down [to Diaz], I think it wouldn't have been a home run. And maybe I'd be out there for the sixth." More »
"The one game, that's a big swing. There's no getting around it, that hurt, not holding on and getting three outs [Saturday]. That's a big swing, for them and us. That's what you got to deal with in this game, though; it's a fight. They did what they needed to do; they came back on us." -- Bochy, on splitting the series after winning the first two games
"That kind of answers a lot of questions about whether he can handle pressure when you put him in a spot like that. He knows where we are in the season, and he's been able to really maximize the moment, which is something that's very hard for a kid to do." -- Matheny, on Reyes
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Sunday's outcome assured the Cardinals of having home-field advantage in a tiebreaker game should they finish the regular season with the same record as the Giants. That's because the Cardinals finished with a better head-to-head record by winning four of the seven games between the two teams.
The game was delayed 11 minutes in the second inning after home-plate umpire Brian O'Nora took a foul tip off his mask and had to exit the game. He was replaced behind the plate by Laz Diaz, and the rest of the game was played with two umpires in the field. O'Nora was diagnosed with a concussion and has been told not to travel until his symptoms subside.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
The Cardinals lost their challenge with an unsuccessful second-inning replay review of a pickoff attempt at first base. Nunez reached on an infield hit and then dove back to first when Reyes threw over. The Cardinals opted to challenge the safe call, but it stood after a one-minute, five-second review.
WHAT'S NEXT Cardinals: The Cardinals will continue their 10-game road trip in Colorado, where they'll open a three-game series Monday. Carlos Martinez will start against rookie left-hander Tyler Anderson in a game with a scheduled 7:40 p.m. CT first pitch. The Cardinals have won five of Martinez's last six starts.
Giants:Madison Bumgarner will take the mound when the Giants open a critical three-game series against the host Dodgers on Monday at 7:10 p.m. PT. Bumgarner has struggled against Los Angeles this season, posting a 5.63 ERA in three outings against the club.