More than two hours after the Cardinals lost 3-1 to the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday, St. Louis received help from the San Francisco Giants, who eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers with a 4-3 victory.
The Dodgers' loss secured the second wild card for St. Louis, leaving them two games behind St. Louis with one game to go. The Cardinals will travel to Atlanta to face the Braves in the wild-card game Friday, with the winner advancing the National League Division Series.
Mat Latos won his fourth consecutive decision to finish the regular season and Scott Rolen homered off Chris Carpenter.
Cincinnati, the NL Central champion, remained tied with Washington for the league's best record. The Reds need a win today and a Nationals loss to earn home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
"We don't know if it's going to be advantageous to get first, second or third, or the wild card," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Right now, this is all new."
The 37-year-old Carpenter (0-2) has a wealth of big-game experience and went 4-0 in the postseason last fall for the World Series champions, memorably outdueling Philadelphia ace Roy Halladay in Game 5 of the NL division series.
Injured most of this season, Carpenter made just his third start of the year gave up a pair of runs in the sixth to snap a 1-all tie. Bruce and Dioner Navarro had RBIs.
"I've said all along this is like my third spring training start in a key situation," Carpenter said. "I'm concerned about the stuff and the sharpness, and tonight it was better than the last time.
"So, hopefully I get another shot."
The Cardinals are 11-4 in their last 15 games despite the loss. They'll draw Homer Bailey (13-10, 3.75 ERA), coming off a no-hitter at Pittsburgh, in the regular-season finale. Adam Wainwright (14-13, 3.94) will start for St. Louis.
Latos (14-4) had an abbreviated appearance while freshening up for the postseason and, like teammate Bronson Arroyo a day earlier, worked five innings and threw fewer than 75 pitches.The 24-year-old Latos was 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA over his last seven starts and set career highs in starts (34) and innings (209 1/3).
"Pitching against a team like them, they're aggressive, they know what they're doing," Latos said. "A great hitting ballclub. To give up one run in five innings is doing pretty well."
Aroldis Chapman worked the ninth for his 38th save in 43 chances. He has allowed just one hit in four scoreless appearances covering four innings since returning from a nine-game absence due to shoulder fatigue on Sept. 21.
Carpenter gave up three runs and seven hits in six innings while losing for the fifth time in 19 career decisions against Cincinnati. He had seven strikeouts, two more than his total for the first two starts over 11 innings.