Even after the St. Louis Cardinals' eight-game winning streak ended Thursday night, there was a sense among the players that the loss wouldn't blunt their momentum.
That sense was proved correct Friday night when they got six shutout innings from Jack Flaherty in a 5-2 win over the injury-riddled Milwaukee Brewers that pulled them within a half-game of Milwaukee for the National League's second wild-card spot.
The Cardinals can overtake the Brewers on Saturday night at Busch Stadium with a victory in the second game of the teams' weekend series.
"We were not worried about that win streak," second baseman Kolten Wong said. "We're just trying to win series. If we keep winning series, something good's going to happen."
Wong made plenty of good things happen in the eighth inning to help the Cardinals (67-56) secure their 20th win in 30 games under interim manager Mike Shildt.
Wong's defensive gem on Keon Broxton's chopper to the right side for the inning's first out ended up serving as serious damage control after Milwaukee put the next four men on and scored its two runs on a Jesus Aguilar single.
In the bottom half of the inning, Wong essentially erased Aguilar's hit with a two-run double, supplying the insurance needed to drop Milwaukee to 68-56.
"This is so much fun," Wong said of St. Louis' surge. "We just fight as hard as we can for nine innings every day. If we win, we win. If we lose, we lose, and then we come back the next day."
In an attempt to pass the Brewers, the Cardinals will trot out their best starting pitcher. Miles Mikolas (12-3, 2.85) will try for his third win in four starts against Milwaukee this year.
The All-Star right-hander is coming off a no-decision in Monday night's 7-6 victory over Washington, giving up four runs and four hits in seven innings with a walk and four strikeouts. A late rally kept Mikolas' streak of nine starts without a loss intact.
He'll be opposed by left-hander Wade Miley (2-1, 2.23), who has pitched well when he has been able to pitch. Miley has missed most of the season with groin and oblique injuries but has perfected a cut fastball and mixed in his changeup to baffle hitters.
Miley is coming off a quality start on Aug. 11 in the Brewers' 4-2 win at Atlanta, settling for a no-decision after working six innings, allowing six hits and two runs. He walked one and whiffed none. In five career starts against St. Louis, he's 2-2 with a 4.85 earned run average.
Milwaukee came into Friday night's game minus outfielder Ryan Braun (rib cage tightness) and catcher Manny Pina (left shoulder). It lost outfielder Eric Thames to a knee injury in the third inning Friday night, the result of a collision with center fielder Lorenzo Cain in the first inning as Thames hauled in Matt Carpenter's drive on the warning track in right-center.
The status of all three players for Saturday night's game wasn't immediately known after Friday night's game, but Braun was able to pinch hit in the ninth inning.