ST. LOUIS — After their 4-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Monday night, the St. Louis Cardinals were preparing for a party.
The win shaved the Cardinals' magic number for clinching the second National League wild-card berth to one. Players huddled around a TV to watch the outcome of the San Francisco-Los Angeles Dodgers game, hoping to see a Giants victory.
But the Dodgers won 3-2 on Elian Herrera's bases-loaded single in the ninth. The Cardinals, therefore, can clinch a playoff spot on the field Tuesday with a victory over Cincinnati.
That would enable them to defend their World Championship of 2011. If the Cardinals qualify, they will play Atlanta on Friday, with the winner advancing to the NL Division Series.
Pitcher Jaime Garcia (7-7) was front and center in the victory over Cincinnati on Monday. He allowed two runs on six hits in 6 2/3 innings, with one walk and six strikeouts.
Garcia spotted the Reds a 1-0 lead in the third, then knotted the game at 1 with a home run in the third against Bronson Arroyo (12-10). The home run settled in the first row just inside the foul pole in right field and gave Garcia five hits in five career at-bats against Arroyo.
"Any time you can help yourself hitting, offensively, whether it's a home run, a hit or a bunt, it's exciting," said Garcia, who has two career home runs. "It's a huge win for us."
The Cardinals added two more runs in the inning, with Allen Craig's double putting them ahead for good at 2-1. Yadier Molina added a sacrifice fly later in the inning and Daniel Descalso had an RBI triple in the sixth against Alfredo Simon.
Garcia was aware that he had been 4-for-4 against Arroyo when he stepped to the plate to lead off the third.
"I knew," he said. "I'm not going to lie to you. I've faced him the last couple of years and knew I was 4-for-4. He's a really good pitcher. I feel like he made a mistake and I put a good swing on the ball.
"He's one of those guys I've gotten lucky (against). He makes a mistake and I'm able to get a swing. We, as pitchers, you can't really say, 'Oh, I see this guy really good,' or 'This guy's not as good as the other one.' I don't think about that. I tried to put a good swing on the ball and I was fortunate."
Garcia said he didn't enjoy the home run near as much as one would believe. He understood its impact, but recognized the importance of staying in control on the mound.
"My teammates were telling me after the game that I wasn't even laughing," Garcia said. "You've got to maybe relax a little bit after you hit a home run. But it's hard for me to laugh about it and relax because my job is to pitch and give us a chance to win.
"I did it and I put it in the past. I worried about making pitches."
Descalso wasn't surprised to see Garcia connect.
"It was great. It jump-started us a little bit," he said. "He swings the bat really well. He went up there and got a good pitch to hit."
Edward Mujica, Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte combined for 2 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Garcia. Motte registered his 41st save.
"One step closer. That was a good win," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said, although he still was not in celebration mode. "It was a great outing by Jaime and we had some timely hitting."
Matheny could tell in the first inning that Garcia had good stuff.
"He looked good right from the beginning," he said. "Even right from the first batter, you could see some almost emergency swings on his fastball. You could tell his ball was running all over the place.
"The other indicator is when you see Yadi having trouble catching anybody, you know the ball is doing things that most of the time it doesn't. He had a good feel for the ball today."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.