By R.B. Fallstorm/The Associated Press
ST. LOUIS — Jaime Garcia homered off Bronson Arroyo and pitched into the seventh inning, helping the St. Louis Cardinals clinch at least a tie for the second NL wild card and spoil Dusty Baker’s return from a mini-stroke with a 4-2 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Monday night.
The defending World Series champions have won 11 of 14 and led the Los Angeles Dodgers, playing at home later against San Francisco, by 2½ games. The Cardinals have two games to go, the Dodgers three.
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.
Arroyo (12-10) threw 73 pitches while allowing three runs over five innings in a tuneup for the postseason. He topped 200 innings for the seventh time but is 0-3 in his last four starts.
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.
Before the game, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny was wary and noncommittal about whether the team would stick around and watch the end of the Giants-Dodgers game that could ignite a delayed celebration in an empty stadium.
“I’m not going there yet,” Matheny said. “We’ve got to win, and I told you guys this before: It’s not some sort of trickery going on, except with my own mind and with these guys, too.
“It’s true, you have to just kind of play it out and don’t get too far ahead of yourself.”
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.
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 homer, although the perfect run ended when he flied out to right to end the fourth.
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.
Allen Craig and Yadier Molina added an RBI apiece in a three-run third, and Daniel 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.
NOTES: Arroyo has allowed 26 homers, tied for third-most in the NL with Bailey and fellow Reds pitcher Mike Leake. … Ryan Ludwick returned to the Cincinnati lineup after missing eight games with left groin tightness but was removed in a double switch in the sixth. … Reds pitchers combined for seven strikeouts to set a franchise record with 1,231, breaking the mark of 1,227 in 2008. … Motte has all of the Cardinals’ saves. The franchise has never gone a season with just one pitcher getting all of the saves.