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Garcia fans five, allows no earned runs

ST. LOUIS -- Putting a pair of rocky starts behind him, Jaime Garcia, back at Busch Stadium, offered a reminder of how critical a cog he can be in this rotation as the Cardinals make a late-season push toward October.

In the immediate, Tuesday's 5-1 victory over the Mets, which came in front of 34,108 fans, inched the Cards to within two games of the Braves, who are currently positioned as the top Wild Card team. It also solidified St. Louis' grasp on the second Wild Card spot.

Garcia's continued progression, though, is what can have an impact well beyond the night.

"I'm working really hard right now, and I'm just going to keep going out there and do my best to help the team win," Garcia said. "I know we have a pretty good chance to do some good things, and whatever is in my control that I can do to help the team, I'm going to keep doing."

For all of the attention the Cardinals' rotation has deservedly received, Garcia has perhaps been the recipient of the least amount of praise. Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook have been lauded for their consistency. Adam Wainwright has been recognized for his second-half resurgence. Joe Kelly has been commended for his ability to step in as a rookie.

Then there's Garcia, the lone lefty of the bunch, who also missed more than two months dealing with a shoulder injury. Though Garcia may not have been able to contribute then, his lift now is needed.

"When he's right, he has as good of stuff as anybody on our staff," manager Mike Matheny said. "He just has freakish kind of pitches that hitters don't see. So you have that, and you mix in being able to throw from the left side ... that's a huge advantage. When he's right, he's fun to watch. Right now, he's somebody that we just count on every fifth day."

On Tuesday, Garcia was in control from the get-go.

The Mets mustered nine hits, all singles, in Garcia's 7 1/3-inning outing. When Garcia allowed consecutive one-out hits in the fourth, he answered with back-to-back strikeouts. Consecutive one-out singles in the sixth became a non-issue when Garcia induced a double play off the bat of fifth-hole hitter Daniel Murphy.

"He kept the ball down," catcher Yadier Molina said. "When he's down, he's nasty."

Garcia was chased from the game by back-to-back singles in the eighth. Reliever Lance Lynn -- who needed a pick-me-up of his own -- allowed one of those inherited runners to score, but only because an error by shortstop Daniel Descalso compounded the inning.

Because the eighth-inning run was unearned, Garcia has still not allowed an earned run in the 15 1/3 home innings he's pitched since returning from the disabled list. Those results are in sharp contrast to Garcia's numbers on the road, which is where he'll make his next two starts.

Garcia allowed 16 hits and 10 earned runs in his prior two starts, one in Cincinnati, the other in Washington. Garcia lasted a combined 11 1/3 innings in those outings, though he reiterated on Tuesday that he felt the results in Washington were not indicative of how well he pitched.

"The last start in Washington, my shoulder felt better," Garcia said. "I was able to stay strong the whole game. Obviously, the results didn't show it. Tonight, it was the same thing. It's hard to say that it's feeling better and better, because the first [start off the DL] was the best one. But it's something where I'm able to recover better between innings and stay stronger."

The home and road discrepancies, though, go beyond a four-game sample size. Though Garcia shrugged off questions about it being an issue, the numbers have piqued the attention of others.

In his career, Garcia is 18-11 with a 2.42 ERA at Busch Stadium. On the road, he has a 13-11 record and an ERA of 4.59.

"You don't ignore trends," Matheny said. "The statistics are what they are. It's data. But there's no explanation for it. He has good stuff. He has better-than-good stuff -- he has great stuff. It's just a matter of him maturing as a pitcher. I know he's been around the league a while, but I still think that's part of the challenge as he moves forward."

The Cardinals' offense, as it did Monday, struck early against a young Mets starter. Four straight singles off right-hander Matt Harvey pushed the Cardinals ahead, 2-0, in the second. Matt Carpenter, starting again for an injured Carlos Beltran, drove in a third run that inning with a sacrifice fly.

Among those to get hits in the inning was Molina, whose infield single was the 1,000th hit of his career.

"It meant a lot," Molina said of reaching the milestone at home. "These fans are here supporting us and come every day to the park to be here for us. It feels so good to be here for these fans. To do it in front of them was huge for me."

Descalso singled and scored in the sixth, as well, and David Freese drove home an insurance run with a seventh-inning hit. Though none of the Cardinals' 10 hits went for extra bases, the club went 3-for-9 with runners in scoring position and executed three sacrifice bunts, all by Garcia.

"It's always nice to score first, especially if you can get a few early to put the pressure on the other team," Descalso said. "We did a nice job of that the last couple of nights, executing and having nice at-bats with runners in scoring position."

The only concern for St. Louis developed in the seventh, when, after drawing a walk, Matt Holliday exited the game with lower back tightness. The club announced Holliday's status as day to day.

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