ST. LOUIS — Jaime Garcia is in fine form for the postseason, winning his past three starts and hitting a home run off Bronson Arroyo, too.
The St. Louis Cardinals are almost there, clinching a tie for the second NL wild card and spoiling Dusty Baker's return from a mini-stroke with a 4-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Monday night.
"I'm excited," Garcia said. "It's a huge win for us."
After winning for the 11th time in 14 games, the defending World Series champions stayed at Busch Stadium more than two hours after the final pitch to watch the Dodgers snap a ninth-inning tie and beat the Giants 3-2 to avoid elimination. The plan for a late-night delayed victory party had been somewhat muted, with five cases of champagne on ice instead of the usual overkill of 20 cases of champagne and 20 cases of beer.
A loss by the Dodgers or another Cardinals win would wrap up a playoff spot for St. Louis and a visit to Atlanta for the wild-card game Friday. Both teams have two games to go.
"It's different with this one-game playoff looming over our heads if we get there," second baseman Daniel Descalso said. "I wouldn't expect a raucous celebration but, you know, some celebration is in order if we do clinch it."
First-year manager Mike Matheny and general manager John Mozeliak, dress shoes propped on an end table, watched the game in the manager's office.
"One step closer," Matheny said. "Too early to start going there."
Arroyo (12-10) threw 73 pitches while allowing three runs over five innings in a tuneup for the postseason after learning beforehand from Baker that he wouldn't go deep into the game. Arroyo topped 200 innings for the seventh time but is 0-3 in his past four starts.
"He talked to us about going shorter, but it doesn't matter, it doesn't take the sting out of it," Arroyo said. "We could be 160-0 and a loss is a loss is a loss. It sits there on the back of my baseball card until I die."
The Reds are 96-64, tied with the Nationals for the best record in the National League with two games to go, and must finish ahead of Washington to get home-field advantage throughout the postseason after losing the season series.
More important at this point is getting to the postseason fresh. Baker made it a point to get work for relievers Alfredo Simon and J.J. Hoover, both of whom hadn't pitched lately.
"It was a matter of trying to win the game, but trying to get your guys fresh at the same time," Baker said. "Right now, we're about preservation and conservation."
Baker missed 11 games, including the NL Central clincher and Homer Bailey's no-hitter, while recovering from a stroke in a Chicago hospital that he had while being treated for an irregular heartbeat. He appeared noticeably fatigued after the game and spoke briefly.
Garcia (7-7) made it 5 for 5 at the plate against Arroyo when he led off the third with a drive that just cleared the right-field wall for his second career home run, though the perfect run ended when he flied out to end the fourth.
"I knew. I'm not going to lie to you. I faced him the last couple years and I knew I was 4 for 4," Garcia said. "He's a really good pitcher and he made a mistake and I put a good swing on the ball."
Allen Craig and Yadier Molina added an RBI apiece in a three-run third, and Descalso had an RBI triple in the sixth that made it 4-1. Jason Motte worked a perfect ninth with two strikeouts for his 41st save in 48 chances.
Garcia gave up six hits, including three singles in a span of four at-bats in the third, with Brandon Phillips getting an RBI. Scott Rolen doubled, advanced on a passed ball and scored on Ryan Hanigan's sacrifice fly in the seventh.
The lefty has been a major asset at home throughout his career, going 20-11 with a 2.48 ERA at Busch Stadium, the lowest career mark of any pitcher with 10 or more starts, including 4-2 with a 2.82 ERA in nine starts this year. He's 3-5 with a 5.02 ERA in 11 road starts this year and 14-12 with a 4.47 ERA overall.