ST. LOUIS (AP) — Jaime Garcia is in fine form for the postseason, winning his last three starts and homering off Bronson Arroyo, too.
The St. Louis Cardinals are almost there, clinching a tie for the second NL wild card and spoiling Dusty Baker's return from a mini-stroke with a 4-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Monday night.
"I'm excited," Garcia said. "It's a huge win for us."
After winning for the 11th time in 14 games, the defending World Series champions stayed at Busch Stadium more than two hours after the final pitch to watch the Dodgers snap a ninth-inning tie and beat the Giants 3-2 to avoid elimination. The plan for a late-night delayed victory party had been somewhat muted, with five cases of champagne on ice instead of the usual overkill of 20 cases of champagne and 20 cases of beer.
A loss by the Dodgers or another Cardinals win would wrap up a playoff spot for St. Louis and a visit to Atlanta for the wild-card game Friday. Both teams have two games to go.
"It's different with this one-game playoff looming over our heads if we get there," second baseman Daniel Descalso said. "I wouldn't expect a raucous celebration but, you know, some celebration is in order if we do clinch it."
First-year manager Mike Matheny and general manager John Mozeliak, dress shoes propped on an end table, watched the game in the manager's office.
"One step closer," Matheny said. "Too early to start going there."
Arroyo (12-10) threw 73 pitches while allowing three runs over five innings in a tuneup for the postseason after learning beforehand from Baker that he wouldn't go deep into the game. Arroyo topped 200 innings for the seventh time but is 0-3 in his last four starts.
"He talked to us about going shorter, but it doesn't matter, it doesn't take the sting out of it," Arroyo said. "We could be 160-0 and a loss is a loss is a loss. It sits there on the back of my baseball card until I die."
The Reds are 96-64, tied with the Nationals for the best record in the National League with two games to go, and must finish ahead of Washington to get home-field advantage throughout the postseason after losing the season series.
More important at this point is getting to the postseason fresh. Baker made it a point to get work for relievers Alfredo Simon and J.J. Hoover, both of whom hadn't pitched lately.
"It was a matter of trying to win the game, but trying to get your guys fresh at the same time," Baker said. "Right now, we're about preservation and conservation."