ST. LOUIS (AP) — Once again, the St. Louis Cardinals gazed at the big-screen TVs, hoping for a little help. Unlike the previous night, there weren't any plans for a late-night victory party.
"I'm sending them home," rookie manager Mike Matheny said after a 3-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday kept St. Louis' postseason plans on hold for a few hours. "They need to get some rest."
Almost everybody stayed put, though, and Matheny said the players who left were back in the clubhouse well before the Cardinals learned they'd be headed back to the playoffs to defend their World Series championship.
Reporters were not allowed into the victory celebration, but loud cheering could be heard beyond the locked door just outside the clubhouse.
"I think they realized how special this is," Matheny said. "You can't take these for granted. We were talking about it being kind of subdued and it was, but they're still proud. And had every right to be."
St. Louis clinched baseball's final postseason berth early Wednesday when the Los Angeles Dodgers lost 4-3 to San Francisco. After wrapping up the second NL wild card, the Cardinals will play at Atlanta on Friday in the new one-game playoff.
"It's a great feeling. It's a wonderful accomplishment," general manager John Mozeliak said. "I couldn't be more proud of these guys and especially Mike Matheny for what he was able to do with his leadership."
Matheny said Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.86 ERA) will start against the Braves.
"What is there not to like about him? I mean, what more can he do?" Matheny said. "It's kind of lined up that way and we've had that in line for a while."
The loss left the Dodgers two games behind St. Louis with one to go.
Cardinals players stayed in the clubhouse after beating the Reds on Monday night to watch the Dodgers edge the Giants, trudging home after midnight when Los Angeles snapped a ninth-inning tie to win.
One night later, St. Louis got in with some help from the Giants.
For their part, the NL Central champion Reds did their best to keep the Cardinals down.
"All they need is a chance," said Jay Bruce, who had an RBI single in the sixth. "We saw that last year. They got in and they made the best out of it, literally made the best out of it. They won the World Series."
Mat Latos won his fourth straight decision to finish the regular season and Scott Rolen homered off Chris Carpenter.
Cincinnati remained tied with Washington for the league's best record. The Reds need a win Wednesday and a Nationals loss to earn home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
"We don't know if it's going to be advantageous to get first, second or third, or the wild card," manager Dusty Baker said. "Right now, this is all new.
"All of us, same in the American League as in our league, we all have to start on the road."
The 37-year-old Carpenter (0-2) has a wealth of big-game experience and went 4-0 in the postseason last fall for the World Series champions, memorably outdueling Philadelphia ace Roy Halladay in Game 5 of the NL division series.
Injured most of this season, Carpenter made just his third start of the year gave up a pair of runs in the sixth to snap a 1-all tie. Bruce and Dioner Navarro had RBIs.