Win puts Cards on verge of Wild Card berth

Win puts Cards on verge of Wild Card berth

Win puts Cards on verge of Wild Card berth
ST. LOUIS -- Exactly three weeks after Jaime Garcia took questions about his immediate future in the starting rotation, the left-hander reduced the Cardinals' magic number to clinch the second National League Wild Card to one with his fourth straight quality start.

Following the 4-2 victory over the Reds at Busch Stadium on Monday night, players, coaches and team personnel gathered in the team dining room -- with significant rooting interest -- to watch the final innings of the Dodgers-Giants game.

Los Angeles' 3-2 walk-off win eliminated any Monday celebration, however. The Cardinals will have to now wait until Tuesday for a shot to secure their place in a winner-move-on Wild Card game in Atlanta on Friday.

"We have two more games," Daniel Descalso said, "to take care of it ourselves."

Indeed, it takes just one win by the Cardinals or one Dodgers loss over the next two days for St. Louis to clinch its postseason berth. In the least, the Cardinals have secured a tie for the second Wild Card.

"One step closer," manager Mike Matheny said after his team's 11th win in its last 14 games. "That was a good win. It was a good day."

Before the Cardinals could turn their attention to scoreboard watching, they had to stave off the Reds, who had already topped them for the NL Central crown. Cincinnati, however, has no intention of sleepwalking into the postseason.

Not only was there motivation to interrupt the Cardinals' road toward clinching, but the Reds remain in the mix to finish with the league's best record.

Garcia halted such pursuits.

The left-hander continued his recent roll with a 6 2/3-inning effort that pushed him toward a third straight win. He'd have had four in a row had a blown save not cost him against the Dodgers on Sept. 15.

"Anytime I go out there -- it doesn't matter if it's the beginning of the year or late -- you want to give your team a chance to win," Garcia said. "You do your best. I'm glad I was able to help tonight to get that 'W.'"

It was just days before that start in Los Angeles that Garcia was ushered in to a meeting with Matheny, who was among those concerned about Garcia's glaring dip in effectiveness when pitching on the road. Serious consideration was given to skipping Garcia in the next turn of the rotation.

Ultimately, however, the Cardinals let Garcia make that next scheduled start, and he has rewarded the organization for sticking with him. Since that closed-door meeting, Garcia has allowed just six runs in 25 2/3 innings.

"I have just been working hard," Garcia said. "And if I see a little thing I need to work on, I'm going to try to make it better. I'm feeling good physically."

Garcia's contributions weren't limited to his work on the mound Monday, either.

After allowing a two-out run in the third, Garcia led off the bottom half of the frame with a solo homer off Reds starter Bronson Arroyo, against whom Garcia entered the night 4-for-4.

"I don't remember facing him that much, but I know he can swing the bat," Arroyo said. "He definitely surprised me by hitting a backdoor breaking ball out of the ballpark. He looked good even on the at-bat after that. Sometimes you get beat by unexpected guys."

Garcia wasn't so oblivious, admitting afterward that he knew exactly what his career numbers were against the Reds right-hander. The game-tying home run was the second long ball of Garcia's career.

The Cardinals continued to pile on Arroyo, using a walk and back-to-back hits by Matt Holliday and Allen Craig to inch in front. Yadier Molina's sacrifice fly gave St. Louis a 3-1 advantage. That lead further increased in the sixth, when Molina singled and scored on Descalso's two-out triple.

Though neither had an RBI, both Carlos Beltran and Holliday finished the game with two hits and a walk. Neither enjoyed an especially strong September, so the Cardinals are glad to see any sign that the pair could be getting back on track as the postseason approaches.

"If we get both of those guys clicking," Matheny said, "it could be a lot of fun."

Aside from the third-inning hiccup, Garcia was hardly threatened by the Reds. After Zack Cozart's third-inning single, he retired 11 of the next 12 batters he faced. The only interruption during that span was a leadoff walk to Ryan Hanigan in the fifth. Garcia worked around it with a pair of strikeouts and a groundout.

"He looked good right from the beginning," Matheny said. "Even right from the first batter, you could see some emergency swings on the fastball. His ball was just running all over the place."

The Reds chased Garcia from his start with a run in the seventh, but Garcia's 6 2/3-inning outing left only a minimal load for the bullpen to carry. Edward Mujica, Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte -- who earned his 41st save -- did not allow a run in relief.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.