CINCINNATI -- Even given scant odds of making the postseason following a sweep by the first-place Cubs last weekend, the Cardinals did exactly what they needed to do in three games vs. the Reds -- win.
An 8-5 St. Louis victory over Cincinnati completed the series sweep at Great American Ball Park on Thursday night. It also put the Cards 1 1/2 games behind the Rockies for the second National League Wild Card spot. St. Louis remained five back in the NL Central race, but gained a game on Milwaukee, which sits 4 1/2 behind Chicago and one behind Colorado.
"These guys were coming off a tough weekend, and they did a nice job of clearing their minds of that," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
Carlos Martinez rebounded from allowing a career-high-tying seven runs at Chicago in his previous start and pitched 6 1/3 innings for the win, while Yadier Molina and Dexter Fowler backed him up at the plate with two RBIs each.
"We didn't play very good baseball in Chicago, but our focus is game to game," said Molina, who raised his RBI total to a career-high 82.
Reds starting pitcher Homer Bailey gave up some hard contact over his four innings while allowing four earned runs, seven hits and two walks with three strikeouts. The first St. Louis run came on Jose Martinez's two-out RBI single lined the opposite way to the right-field line. It was a 1-1 game when the Cardinals added three runs in the third on Fowler's two-run double and a sacrifice fly by Molina.
"The first two hitters were out in three pitches. After that, it was labor-intensive to get the outs," said Reds manager Bryan Price, who pulled Bailey for a pinch-hitter with runners on first and second base in the fourth. "They gave him some really good at-bats, laid off some borderline pitches and were able to put together some things."
The Cardinals' lead was 4-3 in the seventh inning when Molina ripped an RBI double to the wall in center field against reliever Michael Lorenzen and went to third base on the throw to the plate. That enabled Molina to score on Kolten Wong's groundout to first base.
"When you're coming off a sweep, the best way to solve that is with a sweep in your favor," Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter said.
Carlos Martinez gave up four earned runs, nine hits and one intentional walk with six strikeouts. It wasn't the prettiest of outings as a wild pitch to Patrick Kivlehan scored Jesse Winker in the second inning. Phillip Ervin hit a two-run homer in the fourth and Scott Schebler added a solo homer in the seventh.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Fowler stays clutch: Fowler's torrid series continued in the finale, as he went 3-for-5 with two doubles and two runs scored. With no outs in the third inning, he hit a double over the head of Ervin in center field that snapped a 1-1 tie. Fowler was 7-for-13 in the series with two home runs, three doubles, six RBIs and six runs scored.
Fed to the Lyons: Schebler's one-out monster homer in the seventh -- 432 feet and 110-mph exit velocity according to Statcast™ -- was followed by a Zack Cozart single to force Martinez out. Lefty reliever Tyler Lyons was summoned and he proved filthy. Joey Votto was in command with a 2-0 count before Lyons struck him out while he looked at three sliders. After a 1-0 count, Scooter Gennett missed badly while swinging at two sliders before he took a called third strike on a 91-mph fastball to end the inning.
"That was an amazing effort by Lyons," Matheny said. "For him to be able to work that deep into his pitch count (38 pitches) was a huge asset for us."
"They both have come up and have given us a shot of life when they've had an opportunity to play." -- Price, on Ervin and Winker. Ervin has hits in seven of his last eight games, while Winker has a five-game hit streak
"These were huge games, every single one of them. It's a great opportunity for us. We'll just have to see how it works out with the teams we don't have any control over." -- Matheny
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Molina's two RBIs were Nos. 21 and 22 in August, the most productive single month of his 14-year career.
WHAT'S NEXT Cardinals: The Cardinals open a three-game series in Pittsburgh on Friday at 6:05 p.m. CT at PNC Park. Michael Wacha (12-8, 4.02 ERA) will start for St. Louis against Ivan Nova (11-14, 4.20). Wacha is 2-1 with a 2.89 ERA in three starts against the Pirates this season.
Reds: The final homestand of the season begins vs. the Red Sox at 7:10 p.m. ET on Friday, the first game of a three-game series. Sal Romano will make the start and try to continue his hot stretch. Romano is 3-1 with a 2.09 ERA over his last six starts and pitched eight scoreless innings in a 2-1 win over the Pirates on Saturday.