ST. LOUIS — Nine runs in 1 1-3 innings said it all. The St. Louis Cardinals took all the suspense out of a matchup of teams on the cusp of clinchers.
Even in a wipeout loss, the Washington Nationals took away a big positive.
Allen Craig matched his career best with four hits to go with two RBIs, Yadier Molina hit a two-run home run and the Cardinals punished Edwin Jackson in a 12-2 victory Friday night to reduce their magic number for clinching the second wild-card berth to three.
“I think our team’s coming together nicely,” St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright said. “We’ve been playing good ball for the last few weeks and we’re going to be a very dangerous team if we get in there. When we get in there.
“Hopefully it happens sooner rather than later.”
Roger Bernadina homered and Bryce Harper had his fourth consecutive multi-hit game for Washington, which saw its magic number for wrapping up the NL East cut to two when Atlanta lost to the Mets. The Nationals, who secured the first postseason berth for Washington, D.C., since 1933 a week earlier, lead the Braves by four games with five to play and could wrap up the division title Saturday night.
“That was a beating tonight, but we’re obviously watching the scoreboard,” the Nationals’ Adam LaRoche said. “The Braves finally lost a game this month, so I guess we can take that as a positive.”
Wainwright (14-13) halted a string of four so-so starts with six solid innings for the Cardinals. The defending World Series champions have won nine of 11 overall, and 11 of their last 12 at home against Washington since 2008.
St. Louis’ win also eliminated Arizona from contention for a wild-card spot.
Jordan Zimmerman (12-8, 2.90) faces the Cardinals’ Kyle Lohse (16-3, 2.77) in the second game of a three-game series.
“This is a good team we’re playing,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “But we’re a pretty good team, too.”
The Nationals and Cincinnati Reds, who got a no-hitter from Homer Bailey in a 1-0 victory over the Pirates, are tied for the league’s best record at 95-62. The team with the best overall record will open the NL division series on the road against the winner of a one-game playoff between the wild card teams.
Jackson (9-11) was chased early by a team that he dominated a month at home, allowing an unearned run in eight innings with 10 strikeouts in an 8-1 victory.
Jackson (9-11) left trailing 9-1 after just 1 1-3 innings, his shortest outing of the season, in his first start in St. Louis since leaving as a free agent. Jackson was 5-2 with a 3.58 ERA down the stretch last fall, helping the Cardinals earn the wild card on the final day of the season, and was the winning pitcher in Game 4 of the NL division series over Philadelphia.
“Today’s game was just very disappointing and embarrassing,” Jackson said. “Your club is in a pennant race and you have a game like that, it definitely leaves a bitter taste in your mouth that you did absolutely nothing to give your team a chance to win.”
Jackson said returning for the first time to the city he helped win a World Series had nothing to do with his woes.
“That didn’t have any effect at all,” Jackson said. “No pressure, no added emotions or anything like that.”
The Cardinals topped six runs for the first time since beating the Nationals 10-9 on Sept. 1 on the road. Their run total was the most allowed by Washington this season.
Manager Davey Johnson conceded before the bottom of the fifth when he took out four regulars, including 1-2-3 hitters Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman. He pulled two more starters in the middle of the sixth, and in the bottom of the seventh only seventh-place hitter Danny Espinosa remained in the lineup, although not at his original position after moving from second base to shortstop earlier.
“It wasn’t happening tonight,” Johnson said. ‘But we got a little help from our friends, so that’s nice.”
Matheny took out Molina and Carlos Beltran after seven innings. A third starter, Matt Holliday, was removed after getting hit by a pitch on the left elbow by Christian Garcia in the sixth. The team said Holliday had a contusion and was day to day.
“Everything came back pretty negative, but it’s a bad spot,” Matheny said. “I don’t care if you hit it on the bone, a ball thrown that hard, that’s a bad spot.”
A few minutes later in his postgame news conference, Matheny had a much brighter outlook, saying, “To me, Matt Holliday’s going to get locked in here any day.”
LaRoche drove in his 99th run in the first, but that cushion didn’t last long for Washington.
The first five Cardinals hitters scored and the first seven reached safely with the help of a late throw on a forceout attempt by shortstop Ian Desmond and a fielding error by third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, trying for a force at the plate on Molina’s slow roller with the bases loaded.
Craig’s RBI single and Daniel Descalso’s sacrifice fly with the bases loaded, the first out of the inning, were the only hard-hit balls in a five-run first. In 30 starts, Jackson has allowed 25 runs on 36 hits and 18 walks in the first.
Jon Jay doubled to open the four-run second. Craig got another RBI single ahead of Molina’s 22nd homer into the visitor’s bullpen in left and Jackson was yanked after walking Beltran for the second time.
Jackson matched his season worst with eight earned runs allowed, failed to strike out anyone for the first time this year, and threw two wild pitches after entering his 30th start with just one all season. He has allowed 25 runs in the first inning.
METS 3, BRAVES 1
ATLANTA — Lucas Duda’s three-run homer in the seventh gave New York the lead, Jonathon Niese pitched seven strong innings for his third straight win and the Mets beat Tim Hudson and the Braves.
The Braves, who have wrapped up at least a wild-card berth, began the night four games behind the Nationals in the NL East. Atlanta has only five games remaining in the regular season.
Chipper Jones, starting his final regular-season home series before retirement, was 0-for-4 with four groundouts. Jones was honored by the Braves in a pregame ceremony that included former Atlanta manager Bobby Cox and Hall of Famer Hank Aaron. The tribute helped draw a sellout crowd of 51,910.
Niese (13-9) allowed one run on four hits in seven innings for his third straight win.
Freddie Freeman gave Atlanta a 1-0 lead with his 23rd homer off Niese in the fourth.
Bobby Parnell pitched a perfect ninth for his sixth save.
Hudson (16-7) took the loss.
MARLINS 2, PHILLIES 1
MIAMI — Carlos Lee’s game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth inning lifted the Marlins to a win over Philadelphia and eliminated the Phillies from playoff contention.
The Phillies overcame a horrible first half and came from way behind to get within three games of St. Louis for the second wild card spot. But they lost five of the next six to fall out of the chase.
Bryan Petersen began the ninth with a double to right field off Josh Lindblom (3-4). Jose Reyes grounded out and Giancarlo Stanton was intentionally walked setting up the at-bat with Lee. Lee lined a single to left-center field scoring Petersen from second as Laynce Nix’s throw to home was off-line.
Steve Cishek (5-2) pitched one inning in relief for the win.
ASTROS 7, BREWERS 6
MILWAUKEE — Edgar Gonzalez allowed one hit before tiring in the sixth and Brett Wallace, Jason Castro and Jose Altuve all homered and the Astros beat Yovani Gallardo for the first time in three seasons, dousing the Brewers’ faint playoff hopes.
The win helped Houston avoid matching their franchise-worst loss total set last season (56-106). It was their first victory since Bo Porter was named as the 17th manager in franchise history on Thursday. His role with Houston begins immediately following his service as the third base coach for the playoff-bound Washington Nationals.
The loss practically eliminated the Brewers from contention as Milwaukee fell five games behind St. Louis for the NL’s second wild card with five games left for both teams. The Cardinals beat the Nationals 12-2.
DODGERS 8, ROCKIES 0
LOS ANGELES — Clayton Kershaw pitched eight strong innings, Shane Victorino hit a three-run homer and the Dodgers beat the Rockies to remain three games behind St. Louis for the second NL wild card with five games to play.
The Dodgers’ third victory in a row clinched a winning season for the second straight year under manager Don Mattingly.
Kershaw (13-9) allowed five hits, struck out 10 and walked two. He helped himself in the seventh, starting a double play when he turned around and fielded Andrew Brown’s comebacker between his legs with his back to the plate and fired to second for the first out.
The Dodgers provided Kershaw with early run support, taking a 4-0 lead in the second off Jeff Francis (5-7). Andre Ethier’s RBI double scored the first run and Victorino followed with his 11th homer.
DIAMONDBACKS 8, CUBS 3
PHOENIX — Justin Upton and Cody Ransom homered to power the Diamondbacks past the slumping Cubs.
The Diamondbacks snapped a two-game losing streak but still were eliminated from the NL wild card midway through the game when St. Louis beat Washington.
Arizona starter Ian Kennedy (15-11) was uncharacteristically wild, walking six in 5 1-3 innings but held the Cubs to three runs and four hits. The right-hander struck out five.
Aaron Hill and A.J. Pollock had RBI doubles and Adam Eaton added a run-scoring single for Arizona.
Dave Sappelt homered and Travis Wood (6-13) allowed five runs and five hits over five innings for the Cubs, who have lost six straight and 10 of 11. Wood struck out three and walked two in his second straight loss.
GIANTS 3, PADRES 1
SAN DIEGO — Ryan Vogelsong pitched six strong innings and Buster Posey increased his lead in the NL batting race, but not before giving the Giants a big scare in a win over the Padres.
Posey took a wild pitch off his neck in the second inning with Everth Cabrera batting. Vogelsong’s pitch bounced in the dirt, ricocheted up and hit right underneath Posey’s hockey-style catcher’s mask.
The slugger was on his knees for a few minutes and was attended to by a trainer before staying in the game.
Posey went 2 for 4 with a triple and a double to increase his average to .334, four points better than Andrew McCutchen of Pittsburgh. McCutchen went hitless in two at-bats with a walk, dropping his average two points to .330, during the no-hitter thrown by Cincinnati’s Homer Bailey.