PITTSBURGH • The July 27 trade between the Cardinals and the Toronto Blue Jays paid many of the expected dividends Wednesday as the Cardinals continued their vigil of lurking outside the door of playoff contention.
When general manager John Mozeliak traded center fielder Colby Rasmus (now injured) and relievers Trever Miller and Brian Tallet (both let go by Toronto), he received three pitchers — Edwin Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel.
That trio accounted for 24 outs in Wednesday's game with Jason Motte again throwing flames in recording his seventh consecutive save with a perfect ninth in a 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The good news was that the Cardinals won for the seventh time in eight games and they captured their third successive series.
The bad news is that they have just 13 games left, presumably most, if not all, to be played without injured left fielder Matt Holliday, who has an inflamed tendon in his right hand. National League wild-card leader Atlanta, which has only 12 games left, still has a 4½ game bulge on the Cardinals.
Jackson, who passed through Toronto on paper after being traded by the Chicago White Sox, knocked off 6 2/3 walkless innings, giving up two runs. He has had eight consecutive games in which he has allowed three earned runs or fewer and his five wins for the Cardinals are tied with Kyle Lohse for the staff high since he's been here.
Rzepczynski, whose control and confidence betrayed him Monday when he lost the first game of the series, threw nothing but strikes on Wednesday, fanning the three men he faced. Dotel had only one man to retire, but it was Andrew McCutchen, who "has 100 ways to do something good, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.
Looking down the line, the rub in the trade is that Jackson, notably, and Dotel aren't likely to be here next year as both are free agents. Jackson, 28, probably will command a high price tag and the Cardinals already have five starters under contract.
"It will be interesting to see what his market will be," La Russa said. "I think it's going to be a good one. He's certainly impressed us. He can make a mistake and not get destroyed by it."
The club will net draft picks from losing Jackson and Dotel and, indeed if that is the case that both are gone, La Russa said the trade still was well worth it.
"We had a chance to win and we improved our chance to win," La Russa said. "We're not even within smelling distance of where we are now without Jackson, Dotel and Rzepcyznski.
"We're drawing three million people. How do you tell them (not to make the deal)? It cost us a center fielder and that was controversial. But all I know it would be a great story if we came back to play in October.
"For a while there, you couldn't see it, that we were a better team. But we're a better team. And now you're seeing it."
Jackson is well aware that Chris Carpenter was extended for two more seasons, giving the Cardinals a five-man rotation for next season without him, even though he is pitching as well or better than any of the other rotation members.
"I'm not sure (about next year), but good for (Carpenter)" Jackson said. "It's always good when your teammates have success and get acknowledged for it.
"Right now, I'm concerned about trying to make a few more starts and ... hopefully, we can make a bid for the playoffs. I'm sure that's everybody's concern right now
"What happens after the season, we'll deal with after the season."
On Monday, Rzepczynski retired only one of the four men he faced, walking two (one intentionally) as he suffered the loss. He tossed five strikes out of 17 pitches. On Wednesday, he threw 10 strikes out of 14 offerings.
"I was trying to go after them from pitch one," Rzepczynski said. "The other day I was trying to be a little too fine. I'm a lot happier today than I was the other day.
"It's great they let me get back out there in a close ball game."
Catcher Yadier Molina provided the winning margin with a two-run double in the fourth. His two RBIs gave him 60 for the season, two shy of his career high set last year.
Molina was playing his ninth straight game and 127th of the season out of 149.
Earlier in the year, La Russa was giving him more rest, but the Gold Glover wants to go the distance now.
"He gets beat up so much," La Russa said. "This was a game that in the first four months he wouldn't have played."
La Russa raised the question to Molina on Tuesday night about possibly not playing Wednesday with a day off today. But Molina said, "If I feel good and I'm healthy, I can go."
Allen Craig, in the lineup because of the hand injury suffered Tuesday night by Holliday, drove in the other Cardinals' run with a first-inning double off Charlie Morton, against whom he is six for nine.
"It's really fun to play," Craig said. "But it (stinks) that the opportunity came because Matt had to be hurt. The team won't be the same without him."
At the end, there was Motte.
Motte has been scored on in just one of his last 27 outings and has given up an earned run in only one of 39 appearances since June 23 and, according to La Russa, hasn't seemed to make the ninth-inning chore any bigger than it already is.
"Motte's shown a lot of composure in that ninth inning," La Russa said after his righthander had set down the middle of the Pirates' lineup. "He has not done anything different."
Motte said that Molina and backup Gerald Laird have more confidence in him throwing his cutter and two-seam fastball than when he was just throwing his four-seam fastball.
"They're calling them in counts when they would normally call a fastball," Motte said. "It's good they believe in me."
As for his new role, Motte said: "I'm not really trying to look at it any different. Just try to attack the hitters and get every guy out that I can. One at a time."
That's all the Cardinals can do now. Win one at a time. But that time is beginning to run out.