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Cardinals win. But Milwaukee keeps the heat on St. Louis.

The Cardinals avoided an unnecessarily nerve wracking ninth inning Thursday to pull to two games ahead of the Dodgers in the National League wildcard race.

And I have the distinct impression at this point that it's not LA -- but Milwaukee 2 1/2 games behind St. Louis -- that the Redbirds need to worry about the most.

The Birds led 5-0 in the ninth inning after a strong Lance Lynn start. So manager Mike Matheny opted to start the last frame with starter turned reliever turned starter and now reliever again Joe Kelly who loaded the bases with one out on two hits and a fielding error by David Freese.

Jason Motte came into the game and fired heaters past the only two batters he faced to preserve the win -- and the shutout.

The Dodgers can't get hot no matter what they try. After losing the first game of a twin bill against the Nationals Thursday night it looked as if they finally got angry as they built a 6-0 lead over the Nationals. But ineptitude gave the entire advantage back in one bad inning and the Dodgers were on the verge of spiraling wildly out of control. Only a Matt Kemp homer in the ninth edged Washington and kept the Dodgers from falling farther behind.

Milwaukee, on the other hand, is roughing up the Pirates and has come on strong in the standings.

It's funny how teams can shed an ace quality pitcher or a high-priced slugger and get better. That would seem to be exactly what happened when the Brewers traded notorious sourpuss Zack Greinke, who won nine of 12 starts before being shipped to Anaheim.

The day he was traded, July 27, the Brewers were 44-54 and had settled down to fourth place in the NL Central.

The Brewers since then are 32-18 and have clawed their way back into contention for the second Senior Circuit wildcard spot.

Cardinals Star of the Game: Lynn allowed three hits in 6 1/3 innings pitched, walking two while striking out five. He might have gone longer accept he threw a lot of pitches in the early innings before settling down into a groove.

Cardinals Play of the Game: Yadier Molina and David Freese split the honors, each of them hitting their 20th homer of the season in the game. Not only did the home runs give each player their career high, but it gave the Cardinals five players with 20 homers for the first time in the history of the organzation. Molina and Freese joined Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Allen Craig in the 20 homer club.

Lowlight: The Dodgers' narrow escape and the Brewers' win over Pittsburgh keep the heat on the Cardinals.

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