The Cardinals ticked off their eighth straight win on Wednesday night, their longest winning streak since that amazing summer of 105 wins, when they knocked off the Phillies, 5-1, behind a strong start from Jaime Garcia. And they did it with a formula that recalled the '04 and '05 National League Central champs: an outstanding showing from the starting pitcher, big hits from the stars in the heart of the batting order, and a patient offensive approach that paid off in the late innings.
St. Louis is 7-0 since the All-Star break, one win away from completing a perfect homestand against the two teams that played for the NL pennant last year. Before winning three straight from the two-time defending NL champion Phillies, they swept a four-game set from the Dodgers.
Jaime Garcia was the star of the evening, preying on an aggressive Phillies lineup to pitch seven strong innings. Garcia struck out six against two walks, and threw only 95 pitches.
"Talking to [pitching coach Dave Duncan], they have been pretty aggressive, swinging a lot," Garcia said. "So my mentality for this game was just trying to keep the ball down and try and stay in control of the game and I thought I did a pretty good job early, and I was able to hold it out through a couple of innings."
Garcia threw all of eight pitches in a 1-2-3 first inning, setting a tone that he made last for a good while. He retired the first 12 Phillies in order before Ryan Howard led off the fifth with a homer that tied the game. He had to work harder in the fifth and sixth and found himself in a particular jam in the seventh, but escaped every time.
Meanwhile, his offense was hanging in against Joe Blanton. Jon Jay had the game's first hit, a fourth-inning double, and he scored on Albert Pujols' single. Still, the score stayed tied until the seventh.
It looked like it would be the Phils who broke the tie. A one-out walk to Jason Werth was followed by a Jimmy Rollins single, and Garcia was in trouble. He struck out Cody Ransom before walking Carlos Ruiz, but struck out Blanton to end the inning.
One pitch later, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel might have been regretting his decision to let Blanton hit rather than pinch-hitting for him. Matt Holliday cranked a leadoff homer in the bottom of the seventh that gave the Cards the lead.
"It was a pitch down and away," Blanton said. "It was a good pitch. He's a good hitter. It's not exactly where I wanted to throw the pitch, but it was a very quality curveball. He's a good hitter. He put a good swing on it."
The Cards tacked on three more runs in the eighth to provide Ryan Franklin some breathing room, but even the 2-1 edge felt secure. Things are going very well for the Cardinals these days. Their last streak of eight or more wins in a row came Aug. 27-Sept. 5, 2004, when they won nine in a row.
"I think it was just things starting to fall," Jay said of the late runs. "You saw Matt hit the ball hard twice before he hit the home run. Colby [Rasmus] stung the ball twice. It's just the way baseball works. It was nice to get Jaime the win after the way he pitched. Things started to fall in at the plate."
Since the second half started, Cardinals starting pitchers are 5-0 with a 2.03 ERA. They've gone at least six innings in six of the seven games, stifling the potent Los Angeles and Philadelphia lineups.
A team that looked like it was in trouble two weeks ago following a sweep in Colorado is now shining brighter than any of its NL rivals.
"We've known all along, it's a long season," Jay said. "You're going to have your good times and bad times. It's part of baseball."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.