ST. LOUIS — Once again, the St. Louis Cardinals gazed at the big-screen TVs, hoping for a little help. Unlike the previous night, there weren't any plans for a late-night victory party.
"I'm sending them home," rookie manager Mike Matheny said after a 3-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday kept St. Louis' postseason plans on hold for a few hours. "They need to get some rest."
Indeed, they do. The Cardinals are headed back to the playoffs to defend their World Series championship.
St. Louis clinched baseball's final postseason berth early Wednesday when the Los Angeles Dodgers lost 4-3 to San Francisco. After wrapping up the second NL wild card, the Cardinals will play at Atlanta on Friday in the new one-game playoff.
The loss left the Dodgers two games behind St. Louis with one to go.
Cardinals players stayed in the clubhouse after beating the Reds on Monday night to watch the Dodgers edge the Giants, trudging home after midnight when Los Angeles snapped a ninth-inning tie to win.
One night later, St. Louis got in with some help.
For their part, the NL Central champion Reds did their best to keep the Cardinals down.
"All they need is a chance," said Jay Bruce, who had an RBI single in the sixth. "We saw that last year. They got in and they made the best out of it, literally made the best out of it. They won the World Series.
"We're just going to keep playing good baseball and prepare ourselves for the playoffs. If that means they don't make the playoffs, so be it."
Mat Latos won his fourth straight decision to finish the regular season and Scott Rolen hit a home run off Chris Carpenter.
Cincinnati remained tied with Washington for the league's best record. The Reds need a win Wednesday and a Nationals loss to earn home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
"We don't know if it's going to be advantageous to get first, second or third, or the wild card," manager Dusty Baker said. "Right now, this is all new.
"All of us, same in the American League as in our league, we all have to start on the road."
The 37-year-old Carpenter (0-2) has a wealth of big-game experience and went 4-0 in the postseason last fall for the World Series champions, memorably outdueling Philadelphia ace Roy Halladay in Game 5 of the NL division series.
Injured most of this season, Carpenter made just his third start of the year gave up a pair of runs in the sixth to snap a 1-all tie. Bruce and Dioner Navarro had RBIs.
"I've said all along this is like my third spring training start in a key situation," Carpenter said. "I'm concerned about the stuff and the sharpness and tonight it was better than the last time.
"So, hopefully I get another shot."
Despite the loss, the Cardinals are 11-4 in their past 15 games. They'll draw Homer Bailey (13-10, 3.75 ERA), coming off a no-hitter at Pittsburgh, in the regular-season finale, with Adam Wainwright (14-13, 3.94) pitching for St. Louis.
"It's every pitcher's dream to pitch in the big moment," Wainwright said. "Hopefully the Dodgers will lose and we'll be able to go on our merry way. If not, I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Latos (14-4) had an abbreviated appearance while freshening up for the postseason and, like teammate Bronson Arroyo a day earlier, worked five innings and threw fewer than 75 pitches. Latos allowed a run on four hits with four strikeouts, all in a span of four at-bats against the bottom of the St. Louis lineup.
The 24-year-old Latos was 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA over his last seven starts and set career highs in starts (34) and innings (209 1-3).
"Pitching against a team like them, they're aggressive, they know what they're doing," Latos said. "A great hitting ballclub. To give up one run in five innings is doing pretty well."
With what was left of an announced crowd of 39,644 standing and hooting, Aroldis Chapman worked the ninth for his 38th save in 43 chances. He has allowed just one hit in four scoreless appearances covering four innings since returning from a nine-game absence due to shoulder fatigue on Sept. 21.
Carpenter gave up three runs and seven hits in six innings while losing for the fifth time in 19 career decisions against Cincinnati. He had seven strikeouts, two more than his total for the first two starts over 11 innings.
The Cardinals stranded two runners in the second and third against Latos and had two on with one out in the seventh before Sean Marshall got pinch-hitter Shane Robinson to fly out and Jon Jay on a broken-bat groundout.
Rolen, batting .247 but hitting at a .301 clip since the All-Star break, tied it in the fourth when he jumped on a first-pitch hanging breaking ball for his eighth homer.
Baker played for keeps in the early going. He brought the infield in with a runner on third and one out in the first for Matt Holliday, who hit a sacrifice fly, then intentionally walked eighth-place hitter Pete Kozma with two outs and a man on third in the second inning to get to Carpenter, who grounded out sharply to third.