ST. LOUIS -- Throughout a season in which the St. Louis Cardinals have made an art form of inconsistency, manager Mike Matheny's message has been the same: No one game is bigger than the other.
However, even Matheny couldn't suppress a smile Monday night when asked if his team's miracle 5-4 win over the Cincinnati Reds was its biggest of 2016.
"I'm not going to deny there can be lasting effects to a game like this," he said. "It's always good to be reminded of what kind of team we can be."
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Down to its last out, St. Louis scored all five runs to turn a certain loss into a stunning win. The result boosted the Cardinals (59-53) into a tie with Miami for the National League's second wild card after the Marlins lost 8-7 in 14 innings to the San Francisco Giants.
The Cardinals will attempt to build off that win Tuesday night in Busch Stadium when Mike Leake (8-9, 4.80 ERA) tries to crack the code against his old team.
Leake has been rocked for 13 runs in 11 innings against Cincinnati this year, giving up seven runs Thursday in a 7-0 loss at the Great American Ball Park. Since the All-Star break, Leake's ERA is a cringe-worthy 8.18.
The 28-year-old right-hander hadn't faced Cincinnati until this year. Leake spent his first 5 1/2 major league seasons with the Reds, then finished last year with the Giants.
He will be opposed by Brandon Finnegan, who dominated St. Louis for six scoreless innings last Thursday, yielding just two hits and fanning four without a walk. Finnegan (7-8, 4.45 ERA) is 2-1 with a 2.81 ERA in six career outings against the Cardinals.
The Reds (45-66) will hope that Finnegan can repeat that outing -- and that the bullpen doesn't repeat its endgame implosion of Monday night.
Prior to the ninth inning, Cincinnati's bullpen had a 2.08 ERA in its past 26 games, the best in the NL and second only to the New York Yankees in the majors during that span. By contrast, the Reds' bullpen ERA going into July 5 was on pace to be one of the five worst in big-league history.
"It's a miserable feeling, but we've just got to come back tomorrow and win the game and get this feeling out of our system," Cincinnati manager Bryan Price said after the Monday loss.
A similar feeling seeped into the Cardinals' bones for the better part of three games. St. Louis lost the last two games of a weekend series to the Atlanta Braves, the last-place team in the NL East, by a combined 19-8.
And the Reds, the NL Central cellar-dwellers, were one out away from shutting out the Cardinals in 22 straight innings. Instead, St. Louis authored a comeback that in theory could start the big run the team has been waiting for all year.
"We were fighting to get a positive vibe," Matheny said. "We were in a bad spot, but we just continued to play the game. We didn't settle. Guys were in grind mode. They kept swinging."