However, the 10-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday at Busch Stadium ultimately meant nothing, because St. Louis was eliminated from National League playoff consideration by San Francisco's 7-1 rout of the Los Angeles Dodgers that gave the Giants the second wild card.
"There are a lot of teams that are probably happy the St. Louis Cardinals aren't playing anymore," Matheny said. "I think this team had the potential of making a run deep into October."
Instead, St. Louis (86-76) will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2010, undone by too many September losses to losing teams such as the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds. The Cardinals won their final four games, but so did San Francisco, enabling the Giants to nurse a one-game edge to the finish line.
It was pretty obvious from the start that St. Louis wasn't going to get help from Los Angeles. Before the first inning ended, the Cardinals could look at the scoreboard in right field and see the Giants leading 2-0. A short time later, they saw San Francisco expanded its lead to 5-0.
St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright said the dugout noticed the lengthening odds.
"You could see it deflate a little bit," he said, "but you still had to believe you could do it."
Although St. Louis couldn't control the goings-on two time zones away, it could do something about its season finale, and did. A six-run rally in the bottom of the seventh snapped a 4-4 tie and enabled the Cardinals to reach 10 games over .500 for the first time in 10 attempts.
Stephen Piscotty's RBI single scored Yadier Molina to break the deadlock. An error by third baseman Jung Ho Kang on Jedd Gyorko's bases-loaded bouncer plated Piscotty. Randal Grichuk grounded a two-run double down the left field line.
But for all the Cardinals' explosive qualities on offense -- they led the National League with 225 homers, tied a major league record with 81 pinch hits and set a new big league mark with 17 pinch-hit homers -- St. Louis did just as much to hurt itself with inconsistent pitching and poor defense.
"It's very disappointing," shortstop Aledmys Diaz said. "You go to spring training every year with hopes of going to the World Series. But right now, we have to focus on the offseason."
It was a disappointing season on the other side of the field, too. Pittsburgh (78-83) missed the playoffs for the first time in four years, falling out of the wild-card picture by winning only 11 of their last 34 games.
"It's 41 years in the game," manager Clint Hurdle said of his feelings. "I honor the game, respect the game. I've also gotten very good at closing the book. It's time to close the book and go home."
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen, whom a Pittsburgh newspaper reported could be on the trading block this offseason, poked a two-run single to left in the fifth for a 2-1 Pirates lead. McCutchen, the 2013 NL Most Valuable Player, didn't put much stock in the rumors after the game.
"I'm under contract with them, right?" he said. "So that's the way I'm looking at it, but I don't align the stars. I'm not the person who controls all that."
Jonathan Broxton (4-2) picked up the win despite allowing a game-tying two-run homer to John Jaso in the seventh. Juan Nicasio (10-7) was tagged with the loss, giving up three runs without recording an out in the seventh.
Neither starter was involved in the decision. Pirates right-hander Ryan Vogelsong permitted five hits and a run in five innings, walking three and whiffing one. Wainwright pitched six innings, yielding six hits and two runs while issuing three walks and striking out eight.
Carpenter knocked in four runs, thanks largely to a three-run homer in the sixth, his 21st of the year.
NOTES: St. Louis' Yadier Molina caught his 146th game Sunday, the most by a Cardinals catcher since Ted Simmons donned the gear for 154 games in 1975. ... Pittsburgh RHP Ryan Vogelsong needed just one strikeout in Sunday's start to reach 900 for his career, and he got it in the third inning. ... St. Louis LF Matt Holliday got a curtain call in the ninth inning, starting the inning on defense and leaving after the first pitch so that the sellout crowd of 44,615 could give him a standing ovation. The Cardinals aren't likely to pick up his option for next year.