With nine games remaining, their magic number for a postseason berth has been reduced to four.
"You don't want to scoreboard watch, but it goes on, especially at this time of the year," Cruz said after his second career walk-off hit. "We know what's at stake."
The Cardinals' on-again, off-again offense was all the latter until awaking in the eighth. Held to three singles by Kyle Lohse through seven innings, the Cardinals tallied their fourth with Oscar Taveras' leadoff hit in the eighth. Lohse was relieved by Jonathan Broxton, who allowed a two-out walk to Matt Carpenter and an RBI single by Jon Jay that pulled the Cardinals to within one after first baseman Mark Reynolds, forgetting how many outs were in the inning, didn't try for a double play on A.J. Pierzynski's grounder.
"It was an easy double-play ball, especially with Pierzynski running," Reynolds said. "I just thought there were two outs."
Matt Holliday followed with a slow roller up the middle that resulted in a bang-bang play at first. Holliday, diving into the base, was called out by umpire Fieldin Culbreth. Matheny immediately asked for a review, which clearly showed Holliday beating the throw. The call was overturned, though Carpenter, who had sprinted home on the play, had to return to third.
Matt Adams then drew a full-count walk to force Carpenter home.
"In a game like that, any little thing is huge," Holliday said. "Would I have been safe standing up or sliding? I don't know. It felt like a desperate act. I wasn't thinking about it. I just did it."
The Cardinals wasted a leadoff double in the ninth and then tiptoed precariously through the next three innings. Pat Neshek retired Jonathan Lucroy and Aramis Ramirez to strand runners on the corners in the 10th. Carlos Martinez struck out Carlos Gomez with the bases full to end the 11th and Ryan Braun with a runner in scoring position to close the 12th. Sam Freeman pitched a drama-free 13th.
That bought time for the Cardinals' offense to eventually reemerge. Holliday sparked the game-winning rally by opening the 13th with a single off right-hander Jimmy Nelson. Three batters later, Cruz, who had entered the game to catch in the 10th, slapped the game-winning single up the middle.
It was yet another one-run win for the Cardinals, who have now won 29 of the 51 such games they've played. They have eight walk-off victories.
"Just being engaged in the game the entire time and being ready," Matheny said of Cruz, who entered the game having taken just two at-bats for the Cardinals since Aug. 27. "What a great night for Tony Cruz. What a great night for our club."
Continued strong pitching helped the Cardinals win a series in which they scored only seven runs. After Shelby Miller covered the first six innings, six relievers combined for seven scoreless. As a unit, the starters have now gone seven straight games allowing one run or none.
"We've been very clear from the expectation at the beginning of the season that we're only going to be as good as our starting pitching is going to be," Matheny said. "We hope that the other components are there to complement our pitching. But it all begins with our starters going out there."
Miller matched Lohse early, breezing through three perfect innings on 30 pitches. He retired the first two batters in the fourth, as well, before three consecutive hits by Milwaukee dented the scoreboard. The Brewers added to the lead in the fifth, an inning unnecessarily complicated when Miller sailed a throw into center on an attempt at a forceout.
Miller finished off his outing by retiring the side in the sixth, though he took a ball off his right shin during the inning, which made it an easy decision for Matheny to pull him at the end of the frame. Miller had thrown just 82 pitches. With his fourth September start in the books, Miller has limited opponents to three runs (two earned) in 26 innings.
He watched the ending from the video room and seconds before had asked video coordinator Chad Blair how many walk-off hits Cruz had in his career.
"After this," Blair answered, "at least one."
The two then celebrated inside the clubhouse while the rest of the team streamed from the dugout onto the field.
"With my shin, I took that one off," Miller joked, before adding, "We'll have more."