ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals arrived at Busch Stadium on Friday in something of a familiar spot. At this point in each of the past two seasons, they've entered a pivotal final homestand in position to snag a Wild Card spot and in control of their own destiny. Each time
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals arrived at Busch Stadium on Friday in something of a familiar spot. At this point in each of the past two seasons, they've entered a pivotal final homestand in position to snag a Wild Card spot and in control of their own destiny. Each time they faltered. Four games ended up separating St. Louis from last October. In 2016, they missed the postseason by one.
That history is impossible to correct. All the Cardinals can do now is ensure it does not repeat itself. They took a step toward doing that with a 5-3 victory over the Giants, rallying in the eighth to strengthen their hold firmly within the National League playoff picture.
"These kinds of wins are team wins," said Matt Adams, whose pinch-hit, two-run double proved the deciding blow, his second late-inning, game-winning hit of this stretch run. "We're taking care of business. We're not relying on anyone else to help us out. We're in a good spot, but we have to keep playing and keep taking care of it for ourselves."
By squibbing a broken-bat, one-hopper inside the third-base line off Tony Watson, Adams ensured the Cards their fourth win in five games, inching St. Louis to 4 1/2 games behind the Cubs, who lost to the White Sox, in the NL Central. St. Louis maintained its 1 1/2-game edge over Colorado for the second NL Wild Card spot and kept pace with Milwaukee, which owns a three-game grip on the first spot. The Cardinals have eight games remaining, including six against the Brewers and Cubs.
All of which made Adams' latest heroics all the more important. That he was even in that spot spoke to the urgency with which the Cardinals have resolved to attack each night at this critical juncture, where manager Mike Shildt says "every game has its own life."
His right-handed options depleted after pulling starter John Gant in the third, Shildt had little choice but to stick with Adams after the Giants summoned Watson, setting up a two-out, left-on-left situation in a 3-3 game.
"That's one of the reasons we got him, right?" Shildt said. "I liked 'Big City' there. He's taken big at-bats, big at-bats against lefties. He knows what this stage looks like. I was really comfortable with him taking that at-bat."
Adams then rewarded his skipper, staying inside Watson's 94-mph fastball enough to shoot it past Evan Longoria. That scored Harrison Bader and Yairo Munoz, who'd both reached with two outs against Mark Melancon, and salvaged a night the Cards asked their bullpen to cover 19 outs.
"At first I forgot to run to second," Adams said. "I was so excited."
The group that garnered the most postgame praise, from Adams and others, was the parade of relievers that held the line in place of Gant, whose 2 2/3-inning effort marked his shortest of the season. Called upon after Gant walked three, including one with the bases loaded for the Giants' first run, Tyson Ross wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam and notched 2 1/3 scoreless innings.
Dakota Hudson and John Brebbia both struck out the side in shutout frames. Carlos Martinez recorded his fourth save in four tries.
In all, Cards relievers struck out 13 over 6 1/3 innings, bending only after a flurry of soft contact led to two runs off Jordan Hicks in the seventh. That erased a two-run lead the Cards had built with a pair of Kolten Wong RBI hits off Madison Bumgarner.
"The reality is, we had our bullpen in shape to cover some innings, so we covered them," Shildt said after opting for Brebbia in the eighth over Bud Norris, who was available after missing three games with a blister issue.
Brebbia has surrendered just one run over his last 11 appearances, striking out 18 across 10 1/3 innings.
"It's louder in the stadium, that's for sure," Brebbia said. "It's crunch time for the playoffs, for us trying to make a division push too, because that's certainly in reach."
Adams has extensive history with Watson, whom he's faced more than any other left-handed reliever in his career. Adams now has four hits in 14 plate appearances against Watson.
"I'm focused on the moment. If I'm dwelling in the past, I'm not going to be where I need to be going into that at-bat. When a guy has a sinker like that, that moves across the plate, you have to be ready for it."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
The score -- knotted 1-1 at the time -- made the throw Yadier Molina made to second to catch Longoria trying to steal a vital play in the fifth. But it was the metrics of the throw that made it worth watching again. Statcast™ tracked Molina's throw at a 1.90 pop time to second, his fastest on a caught stealing this season. After starting the season 0-for-8 throwing out runners, Molina has now thrown out 12 of the last 18 to attempt against him.
HE SAID IT
"I don't want to say I don't care, but I don't know, I don't care. I go in to pitch whenever they want me to pitch, and I have the same thought process every time: Try to get everyone out. Whether it's the eighth like tonight, or the sixth like the other day, I like pitching. I'll do it whenever they want me to." -- Brebbia
FROM THE TRAINERS ROOM
Munoz was on base -- and not a pinch-hit option -- for Adams' hit only because he replaced Wong, who left the game due to cramping in both his hamstrings. Wong said the "tightness" was unlike the left hamstring issue that forced him to the DL last month, but that he "could barely run" after his final at-bat. He said he will try to play Saturday, when he will be re-evaluated by the club's medical staff.
"If I wake up tomorrow and I feel good, I'm playing," Wong said. "I want to be in there. We have eight games left. There's no sense in sitting back and waiting for an injury to go away."
In what could be his last start in a Cardinals uniform, Adam Wainwright (2-3, 3.72 ERA) will take the ball Saturday when St. Louis' three-game series against the Giants continues from Busch Stadium. Wainwright was masterful in his last outing -- his second off the DL -- blanking the Dodgers over six innings. But he's not guaranteed another start, and his contract ends this offseason. Rookie right-hander Dereck Rodriguez (6-4, 2.30) starts for San Francisco with first pitch slated for 12:05 p.m. CT.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.