ST. LOUIS (AP) — J.A. Happ can finally get a good night of sleep.
The St. Louis left-hander threw 5.1 shutout innings in the Cardinals' 2-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday.
Nolan Arenado homered for the second game in a row, and Happ combined with four other hurlers on a five-hit shutout.
St. Louis has won four of six. The Cardinals began the day two games behind Cincinnati and San Diego for the final NL wild-card spot. Cincinnati, which won the first game of the series, has lost five of seven.
Happ lasted just one inning and gave up seven runs on eight hits in a career-worst outing in a 12-2 loss at Cincinnati on Sept. 1.
That performance stuck in his mind.
Happ: 'I was able to get into a groove' against Reds
“It cost me several nights sleep,” Happ said. “You do your best to flush it, it's easier said than done. You have an outing like that, you want to do anything to get it back."
Happ was acquired from Minnesota at the trade deadline. He compiled a 3-0 record in August before that pounding by the Reds.
“I have able to execute on both sides a little bit better today," Happ said.
Arenado hit a two-run homer in the first off Sonny Gray (7-7), who then retired the next 14 hitters. Arenado, who has 31 homers now on the year, also homered in the eighth inning of the Cardinals’ 6-4 victory Saturday night.
“Big hits by our favorite player,” reliever T.J. McFarland said. “It's huge.”
Luis García, McFarland, Génesis Cabrera and Giovanny Gallegos finished out the final 3.2 innings, with Gallegos picking up his eighth save in 15 opportunities.
McFarland got Asdrubal Cabrera to ground into an inning-ending double play in the seventh.
The bullpen allowed just three hits over 3.2 innings and combined for six strikeouts without a walk.
“It's a huge win, we have a lot of momentum right now,” McFarland said.
Gray allowed two runs on three hits over seven innings. He struck out six and walked one.
“Just one pitch kind of got me today,” Gray said. “It was a 2-0 heater. I wouldn't have done anything different.”
Both teams remain optimistic as the season heads into the final three weeks. St. Louis manager Mike Shildt compared the playoff drive to a horse race.
“Around the stretch they come and we have some closing speed,” Shildt said.
Cincinnati infielder Jonathan India likes the Reds' chances.
“We're fine, we're not down on ourselves at all,” India said. “We're going to come through.”
St. Louis infielder Matt Carpenter, who was not in the lineup, was ejected in the fourth inning after a check swing by Arenado was called a strike.
The Cardinals have won nine of their last 12 day home games. They are 15-9 at home in afternoon contests this season.
THE STREAK STOPS HERE
The Reds won 10 of 19 games against St. Louis this season giving them a season series win for the first time since 2011 when they compiled a 9-6 mark.
Reds: OF Tyler Naquin was held out of the contest due to sore ribs suffered when he collided with teammate Jose Barrero on Saturday.
Cardinals: RHP Dakota Hudson continued his rehab stint with a start Sunday night for Double-A Springfield. He has not allowed an earned run in three previous minor league starts covering 8.2 innings.
Reds: LHP Wade Miley (12-5, 2.89) will take on Pittsburgh LHP Dillon Peters (0-2. 3.38) in the first of a three-game series on Tuesday in Pittsburgh.
Cardinals: RHP Adam Wainwright (15-7, 2.98) will face New York Mets LHP Rich Hill (6-6, 3.82) on Monday in the first of a three game series in New York. Wainwright is 6-6 with a 4.95 ERA in 13 career starts against the Mets.