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Cards slip to Wild Card tie after dropping duel

MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals no longer have a cushion.

With their offense flummoxed again by Dodgers rookie Walker Buehler, the Cardinals wasted a strong start by their own rookie starter, Jack Flaherty, while falling, 3-0, in front of a sellout crowd at Busch Stadium on Friday. Coupled with the Cardinals' defeat in the series opener, the two-game lead they held over the Dodgers for the National League's second Wild Card spot has, in just over 24 hours, completely dissolved.

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ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals no longer have a cushion.

With their offense flummoxed again by Dodgers rookie Walker Buehler, the Cardinals wasted a strong start by their own rookie starter, Jack Flaherty, while falling, 3-0, in front of a sellout crowd at Busch Stadium on Friday. Coupled with the Cardinals' defeat in the series opener, the two-game lead they held over the Dodgers for the National League's second Wild Card spot has, in just over 24 hours, completely dissolved.

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"We didn't throw any celebrations when we were up, and we're not going to get sideways because we're tied now," Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. "Really, we're just showing up to play good baseball. We saw a good game tonight and just came out on the short end of it."

Video: LAD@STL: Shildt discusses pitchers duel in 3-0 defeat

It's the first time since Aug. 20 that the Cardinals don't hold sole possession of a Wild Card berth. Their window at climbing back into the NL Central race is shutting, too. The Cardinals sit four games back of the Brewers and 5 1/2 games behind the Cubs in that race.

The outcome of the head-to-head games between the Cards and Dodgers this weekend will determine which club controls its own destiny entering the regular season's final two-week stretch.

"For us to continue to trudge along one pitch at a time, one game at a time, you can see from everyone there's a heightened focus right now," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.

Friday offered a rematch between the rookie right-handers Buehler and Flaherty, and the encore was as dazzling as the premiere. Just as they did when they met 23 days earlier, Flaherty surrendered one run over six innings and Buehler held the Cardinals scoreless. This time, though, Buehler went a career-long eight innings.

Video: LAD@STL: Buehler whiffs 9 in 8 scoreless frames

"The last time I faced him he went in and out a lot," Harrison Bader said. "This time he went up and down. He just executed well."

"One of the better arms we've seen," added Shildt.

Buehler retired the first 13 batters he faced before Paul DeJong laced a single to left in the fifth. Bader extended the inning with a two-out infield single to generate a flash of momentum. A first-pitch groundout by Yadier Molina ended it.

The Cardinals wouldn't threaten again until the eighth, when a pair of walks brought MVP-hopeful Matt Carpenter to the plate with two out. Carpenter struck out on Buehler's 24th pitch of the inning and 105th of his night.

"He wanted this moment," Roberts said. "It was just really fun to see him rise to this occasion."

Flaherty didn't last as long, largely because he needed 46 pitches to weave through the first two frames. Along the way, Yasiel Puig stung the first of his two solo homers on the night. Flaherty found some efficiency thereafter, but the Cardinals never recovered.

Video: LAD@STL: Puig clobbers 2 home runs in 3-for-4 showing

A passed ball by Molina, who got crossed up by reliever Dakota Hudson in the seventh, allowed Los Angeles to tack on an insurance run. Puig then took reliever Tyler Webb deep in the ninth to secure his sixth career multi-hit game.

"I don't care about my line. I don't care about anything other than winning," said Flaherty, now winless in three September starts. "So it doesn't matter how I pitch. I didn't pitch well enough. He pitched better than I did, so at the end of the day that's how I see it."

Video: LAD@STL: Flaherty induces a groundout, strands 2

The Cardinals, after a 22-6 run through August, fell to 5-8 in September. They've endured two three-game losing streaks this month, their first of the second half.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Though he had lefty Zac Rosscup ready in the bullpen, Roberts opted to stick with Buehler as Carpenter stepped in as the potential go-ahead run in the eighth. After working the count to 2-2, Carpenter swung through a curveball in the dirt for his third strikeout of the game. It was the seventh time in three days that Carpenter had come to the plate with a runner in scoring position. He went 0-for-7 with no RBIs in those spots.

"I think we all have high expectations for Carp, including himself, but we also have to have realistic expectations," Shildt said. "We'll take Matt Carpenter up there in a big situation in any time and recognize the fact that it's not going to happen every time. Not everyone is going to get the at-bat that they want, but winners like Carp embrace those opportunities."

Video: LAD@STL: Buehler whiffs Carpenter, strands 2 in 8th

SOUND SMART
With eight strikeouts, Flaherty moved past Dick Hughes (161) and Harvey Haddix (163) and into fourth place on the franchise's all-time rookie list. Flaherty, who has struck out 168 this season, needs one more to catch Shelby Miller. Rick Ankiel set the rookie record with 194 punchouts in 2000.

Video: LAD@STL: Flaherty K's Machado swinging in the 1st

HE SAID IT
"I love this club. I love the way they compete. I love the way they get after it. There is adversity in everything." -- Shildt

UP NEXT
Third baseman Jedd Gyorko is expected back in the lineup when the Cardinals face lefty Rich Hill and the Dodgers in a 12:05 p.m. CT game at Busch Stadium on Saturday. Opposing Hill will be righty John Gant, who has allowed two or fewer runs in seven consecutive starts. This will be his first career start against the Dodgers.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

St. Louis Cardinals, Jack Flaherty