Jason Motte ultimately closed the door for his first Major League save as the Cardinals beat the Reds, 5-4, to end a seven-game losing streak. St. Louis stayed within six games of the Wild Card-leading Mets with 10 games remaining in the regular season.
"There was a lot of agony in that game," said manager Tony La Russa. "But it was a great win for us."
Everything that had to happen happened. And it still almost wasn't enough.
Starter Kyle Lohse got into plenty of trouble, but made the lead stand up over 6 2/3 innings for his first win since Aug. 1. Lohse had gone four straight starts without a decision, and had not won in seven starts. He allowed three runs, two earned, on six hits.
Albert Pujols, in a 5-for-24 mini-slump before the game, crushed a three-run homer that put St. Louis ahead. Pujols had scored two runs and driven in three over the previous seven games, during which St. Louis tallied a total of 17 runs.
From top to bottom, the Cardinals took solid at-bats, making Edinson Volquez work one night after Aaron Harang barely seemed to break a sweat in throwing a complete game. And the bullpen held the fort for a while -- until Chris Perez found himself in a very tight jam in the ninth inning.
Willing to pull out all the stops to end the streak, La Russa yanked Perez after two walks and an RBI bloop single. He called on Motte, who three years ago was a catcher and two years ago made stops at State College of the New York-Penn League and Quad Cities of the Midwest League.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, Motte shut the door. He went 3-2 on Jeff Keppinger before the infielder flied out, and Motte had his first big league save in his seventh appearance. Motte has a grand total of 170 1/3 innings as a professional pitcher, but he didn't rattle.
"It was cool," Motte said. "Even in the bullpen, Marty [Mason, bullpen coach] was like, 'Hey, when you get in there, it's just one out.' That's kind of how I went out there. ... I tried to relax. I tried not to get too amped up. That didn't work out but I ended up getting it."
That sealed the win for Lohse, who might not have allowed any runs if not for some defensive foibles behind him. In the second, a Cesar Izturis error at shortstop led to an unearned run. In the third, a ball dropped just out of the reach of Aaron Miles for a double, with Miles playing left field instead of second base. And in the sixth, Jolbert Cabrera's RBI single slipped between the Cards' two middle infielders, each of whom seemed to think the other was going to get the ball.
But unlike in some recent starts, Lohse never allowed the adversity to turn into a big inning. He limited each chance to a single run, and in so doing equaled his career high with his 14th win.
"It's been a while," said Lohse. "It was nice to get myself personally back in the win column, and it was a much-needed win [for the team]. ... They dropped in a lot of dinker hits and found holes. And the guy they had going tonight, after we get that lead, you just can't give it up."
After the Cards fell in an early 1-0 hole, Volquez walked the first two batters of the third inning. Miles struck out, bringing up Pujols, and the slugger cranked a line drive 404 feet to right-center field. It was the first hit Volquez allowed in the game.
The two walks were emblematic of a major change from the previous two nights. After not drawing a walk in the first two games of the series, St. Louis worked Volquez for six free passes in seven innings. Three of those walks led directly to runs.
And yet even after all of that, it nearly got away in the ninth. But Motte was there to save the game, becoming the hero of the evening at home and in St. Louis.
"I walked in and checked my phone, and I had text messages and stuff from my brother, my girlfriend, my parents," Motte said. "It was pretty cool."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.