ST. LOUIS -- Cautioned by their manager not to get caught looking ahead to a huge weekend series at Wrigley Field, the Cardinals took care of the task at hand on Thursday by securing a series victory over the Reds with a 5-2 win at Busch Stadium. Luke Weaver shined over six innings, while Jose Martinez and Tommy Pham keyed the offense.
With their 11th win in 14 games, the Cardinals kept pace in the National League Central. The Cubs, who beat the Mets later Thursday evening, hold a three-game lead over both the Cards and Brewers in that race. St. Louis has pulled to within 2 1/2 games of the Rockies for the second NL Wild Card spot.
"A lot of guys in the clubhouse continued to fight and tried to better themselves every day to get us in that position," Pham said. "But we have to take it one series at a time because this ballclub over here, they have one of the best lineups in baseball top to bottom."
Reds starter Amir Garrett, who shut out the Cardinals over six scoreless innings the first week of the season, couldn't replicate that success on Thursday. Martinez, who has reached base safely in 15 consecutive games, delivered a two-out, two-run single to put St. Louis ahead in the third.
"It's hard to come through in those big situations, against big league pitchers and a guy who has thrown the ball very well," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "And for Jose to come through with that, we needed somebody to come through with a shot for us and give us the big hit. That turns the whole game around."
The Reds' offense hardly threatened against Weaver, who has won all five starts he's made since taking Adam Wainwright's place in the rotation. He gave up one unearned run in six innings to lower his season ERA to 1.89. Weaver is the only rookie in baseball to win six consecutive decisions this season.
"It wasn't simply our club that struggled against him; it was the five clubs the preceded us that have really struggled to handle him," Reds manager Bryan Price said of Weaver. "So he's obviously got something figured out, and he's doing some things with confidence."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Moving on up: Garrett appeared to be cruising through the third, but things stalled when he issued a pair of two-out walks. But the Cardinals didn't just take the free bases. They swiped extra ones, too. Pham stole second and then completed a double-steal with Paul DeJong that moved both players into scoring position.
"I knew they had a guy on base that was really fast," Garrett said. "I don't think I mixed in the slide step really one time like I normally do. That's why I said the game sped up on me. Normally I'm pretty quick to the plate, but I didn't make the adjustment when he was on. He's fast and he took advantage of me not slide stepping."
From there, both Pham and DeJong were able to hustle home when Martinez followed with a two-run single.
"That was huge for us, because at that time in the game, Amir was throwing great," Pham said. "It was looking like it was going to be one of those hard-fought games for us. And for us to pull that double-steal off, it led to two runs right there. That was huge. That shouldn't get overlooked."
Relay race: The Cardinals executed a perfect relay to prevent the Reds from narrowing the deficit to two in the seventh inning. Joey Votto, who opened the inning with a walk off reliever Tyler Lyons, attempted to score from first when Adam Duvall drove a double into the left-center-field gap. But center fielder Harrison Bader cut the ball off and fired it into shortstop DeJong, who made a perfect throw home to catcher Yadier Molina. Molina applied the tag on Votto's foot to end the inning.
"Great relay all the way around," Matheny said. "You had to have everything go perfect in order to get him at the plate right there, so I understand why they're trying to push the envelope. But that could have been one of those momentum shifters."
"I know it's a big deal, but I try to downplay it in my mind and think of it was another game. It doesn't change my mentality when I go out there. I want to stay aggressive and be strong and put up a great performance. Anything less than trying to be perfect is not good in my head, so I want to do the best that I can." -- Weaver, on pitching in a pennant race
"You see guys that go up and down in every level, that's because in large part, you're trying to find that 'it' factor that gets you to be able to play the game the same way that you would play it at any other place. But this just isn't any other place. This is where these guys want to be. This is where they want to stay. They want to be part of a winner. So there's way more on the line. There's more pressure to perform here because everyone wants to stay." -- Price, on the transition from the Minors to the Majors
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Pham is the sixth player in Cardinals history to hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases in a season, joining Lou Brock, Ray Lankford, Brian Jordan, Fernando Tatis and Reggie Sanders. Lankford accomplished the feat five times. Sanders was the most recent Cardinal to hit that mark, doing so in 2004.
WHAT'S NEXT Reds: Cincinnati opens its final homestand of the season with a three-game series against the Pirates starting Friday at 7:10 p.m. ET at Great American Ball Park. Homer Bailey will make his 21st career start against Pittsburgh, against whom he has an 11-9 record with a 3.48 ERA. Chad Kuhl will start for the Pirates.
Cardinals: St. Louis' nine-game road trip will open with a critical three-game series against the Cubs. First pitch from Wrigley Field on Friday is scheduled for 1:20 p.m. CT. Carlos Martinez, who is 4-3 with a 4.08 ERA against the Cubs in his career, will start against former teammate John Lackey.
Joe Harris is a contributor for MLB.com based in St. Louis and covered the Reds on Thursday.