ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals may be scoreboard-watching, hoping for one of the two clubs ahead of them in the National League Wild Card standings to stumble, but no one else's results matter if they don't start tabulating victories of their own. And on Wednesday night, they couldn't, falling to the Reds, 2-1, due to a pile of missed opportunities to drop further back in a race entering its final days.
The loss leaves the Cardinals, who have four regular-season games remaining, 2 1/2 games back of the Mets in the Wild Card standings. The Giants also lost Wednesday, staying one game ahead of St. Louis for the final NL postseason spot.
"We're running out of time," said Cardinals starter Mike Leake. "We have four games left and now we have to have the Giants lose. That's not an ideal position, but if we can win four games straight here, I think we can still put ourselves in the best opportunity."
Adam Duvall's two-run bloop single in the third supplied the Reds with enough offense to spoil any chance the Cardinals had of pulling even for the second Wild Card spot before the end of the night. Both runs came off Leake, who finished five innings before being pulled in manager Mike Matheny's aggressive effort to take advantage of his club's own offensive opportunity.
St. Louis pulled to within one when Matt Adams, pinch-hitting for Leake, grounded into a fifth-inning double play. But they'd squander repeated chances to even the game after that. Over the final two innings, the Cardinals had five chances to push the potential tying run in from third base. They never did and finished the night 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
"When you have that many chances to score and take over the game, yeah, that hurts. No question about it," Matheny said. "I think where we are in the season and the fact that we had three different times with guys on third base and less than two outs, it makes it stand out a little bit more."
Cincinnati starter Anthony DeSclafani improved to 9-5 as he closed his season by limiting the Cardinals to one run over six innings. The Reds, despite being in the bottom of the NL Central, have now won half of the 18 games they've played against St. Louis this season.
"There's no question about it that this is a big series for them," said DeSclafani, who finished with a 3.28 ERA in 20 starts. "Being right out of the Wild Card spot, these are must-win games for them. They're trying to play the best ball they can, they're not just coasting through this ordeal. To come out the first game and hit the way we did and now all of a sudden, we've got two out of three games here."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Clutch flare for two runs: Duvall, who had a five-RBI night with two home runs on Monday, delivered a big hit early Wednesday when his two-out single to short left field landed perfectly between Aledmys Diaz and Brandon Moss to score Jose Peraza and Hernan Iribarren. It gave Duvall 102 RBIs for the season. He added a leadoff triple to center field that kicked off Randal Grichuk's glove at the wall in the top of the eighth.
"That's what you're trying to do is make weak contact," Leake said. "You're trying to get broken bats. You can't really predict where it will fall, unfortunately."
But a key moment that allowed both runners to score was when they were put in motion for previous batter Joey Votto as he grounded out to second base. It prevented a double play that would have ended the inning. Last weekend in Milwaukee, a similar move by manager Bryan Price ended with Votto lining into a triple play.
"It was the right decision both times, and one time in backfired horribly. The other time it was a game-changer," Price said.
A tough six outs: The Reds used Raisel Iglesias to notch a six-out save but it proved to be a harrowing eighth and ninth innings. A leadoff walk, a one-out hit-by pitch and a wild pitch in the eighth put the tying run on third base and go-ahead run on second base for St. Louis. Iglesias escaped with a Stephen Piscotty strikeout and Jhonny Peralta groundout. In the ninth, pinch-hitter Kolten Wong hit a leadoff triple, but Iglesias notched three straight outs to secure his fifth save.
"In that moment when you've got the tying run on third, I just thought about being more aggressive and going after the hitter," Iglesias said via interpreter Julio Morillo. "After that, I just tried to locate my pitches, and it felt like a playoff game. I just tried to be as aggressive as I could be and go after the hitters, and that's what I did." More >
Swing and miss: Moss, searching for any sort of offensive traction amid a 6-for-85 slump, whiffed on a chance to give the Cardinals a lead in the sixth. A pair of two-out hits put two runners in scoring position for the left fielder, but DeSclafani struck out Moss swinging to end the threat. With two strikeouts, Moss has 34 over his last 88 at-bats. More >
Left stranded: The Cardinals' bullpen contributed four innings of scoreless relief, none more impressive than the escape act pulled off in the eighth. After Duvall's leadoff triple put an insurance run 90 feet away, reliever Kevin Siegrist answered with a strikeout of Eugenio Suarez. Matheny then sent an early summons for closer Seung Hwan Oh, who struck out two more to end the inning.
"My focus was not giving up any more runs because that was a critical moment in the game," Oh said through interpreter Eugene Koo. "That was my focus, and I was able to get it done."
"I didn't do my job. I let my team down, and you can't do that right now. You've got to get it done, especially in crunch time and that's what we're in right now. It's a tough [loss] to swallow, but [we] just have to get back into it tomorrow. " -- Greg Garcia, one of three Cardinals unable to drive in Wong from third in the ninth
"He's a Major League starter and a guy that will be a piece of the foundation for this rotation. When we're talking about games in September that will be meaningful for the Reds, I think we'll still be talking about Anthony being a part of that rotation that's doing those things. We need it. We can't talk all we want about the past but moving into the future, we have to have guys like Anthony that give us to chance to win every time they take the mound. He does it with great intensity and great competitiveness." -- Price, on DeSclafani
Oh exited with two out in the ninth after tweaking his groin trying to make a play in the field. Oh and Matheny downplayed the injury, emphasizing that it was not as serious as the groin strain that caused Oh to miss a week earlier this month.
"If they [hadn't] come out to the mound [to check on me], I would have kept going," Oh said. "I could have pitched to the end." More >
WHAT'S NEXT Reds: The final road game of Cincinnati's season will be Thursday's 7:15 p.m. ET series finale at Busch Stadium. Dan Straily, who is 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA over his last three starts, will try for win No. 15.
Cardinals: St. Louis will close out a four-game series against the Reds on Thursday when rookie Alex Reyes makes his final start of the regular season. First pitch is scheduled for 6:15 p.m. CT. Reyes limited the Reds to two runs over six innings in an early September start.