ST. LOUIS — Fortunately for the Milwaukee Brewers, they didn't slip up.
The Brewers clinched their first playoff spot since 2011 by ensuring at least a spot in the NL wild-card game, helped Wednesday night when a rookie St. Louis pinch-runner suddenly fell on his way to the plate in a 2-1 win over the contending Cardinals.
"I saw him go down and luckily we were able to put a tag on him and get him out," Brewers reliever Josh Hader said. "I've never seen that before but it was definitely good on our side."
The Brewers (92-67) remained a half-game behind the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs. Milwaukee's win also sealed a postseason berth for the Cubs.
Milwaukee began the day 3 ½ games ahead of Colorado for the top wild-card slot. St. Louis (87-71) entered a half-game behind the Rockies for the final wild-card berth.
The Cardinals missed a big chance to tie it in the eighth inning. Matt Carpenter drew a two-out walk and was lifted for pinch-runner Adolis Garcia. Jose Martinez then hit a slow roller to third baseman Mike Moustakas, who threw wildly to first.
Garcia was waved home, but slipped rounding third base and fell halfway to the plate. He got to his feet and had no chance, easily tagged out after second baseman Hernan Perez made a strong throw.
"The kid's giving you everything he's got, it's just unfortunate he fell," Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. "It's one of those things that happened. Clearly, it would've tied the game but it wasn't for lack of effort. Things happen and he was giving everything he had."
Milwaukee turned that break into a three-game sweep at Busch Stadium. And while the Brewers enjoyed an enthusiastic celebration in their clubhouse, the prospect of catching the Cubs still hung in the air.
"We like our chances, but obviously winning the division would be huge," outfielder Ryan Braun said. "The wild-card game, no matter how good you are, it is always somewhat of a coin flip. So we have to take care of business. We have to continue to win games and continue to play the way we've played to this point and hopefully find a way to win the division."
Milwaukee advanced to the NL Championship Series in 2011 before being eliminated in six games by the eventual World Series champion Cardinals.
Jhoulys Chacin pitched five strong innings and Travis Shaw hit a pair of RBI singles for Milwaukee.
"When you've got games left still and you've got something to play for there's stuff ahead of us, but you do this to enjoy what you've accomplished," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "We know that we've made the playoffs, we have a chance to play in the playoffs and we have three big games left."
Chacin (15-8), who had lost his last three decisions, gave up one run on just one hit over five innings. He needed a season-low 60 pitches and faced three batters over the minimum.
"We definitely caught a break there, it was a strange play," Counsell said of the Garcia fall. "We pitched really well tonight. Chacin was brilliant. It was just a really well played game."
Xavier Cedeno, Corbin Burnes, Hader and Jeremy Jeffress combined for four shutout innings as the Brewers held the Cardinals to a season-low two hits. Jeffress earned his 13th save in 18 chances.
Milwaukee now returns to Miller Park to take on the lowly Detroit Tigers in the three-game series starting Friday to end the regular season. The Cardinals travel to face the Cubs for the three-game set.
Shaw's single scored Christian Yelich, who walked all five times he came to the plate, and gave the Brewers a 1-0 lead in the third.
Shaw broke a 1-all time with an RBI single off Dakota Hudson in the fifth, again scoring Yelich, to make it 2-1.
"It's cool," Shaw said. "I mean anytime you do that it's cool but especially on a clinching night, it feels pretty good."
Yelich, who reached on a walk by Chasen Shreve (3-4), became the ninth inherited runner out of 18 that Hudson has allowed to score.
"Hopefully this is the first of many celebrations and rightfully so to celebrate this moment," Yelich said. "But we've got a big weekend ahead so we're going to enjoy it tonight and get back to work."
Cardinals starter John Gant stranded runners in each of his first four innings before being lifted with one out in the fifth. It is the fourth time in his last five starts that Gant failed to go more than 4 1/3 innings.
Jedd Gyorko's sacrifice fly with the bases loaded in the fourth made it 1-all.
Cardinals infielder Paul DeJong hung back to watch the Brewers' on-field celebration.
"They earned it," DeJong said. "It's something that I want. It's something that I've done in the minor leagues. I really wanted to be out there doing it with us but we're going to have to keep pushing and try to pull something out."
Brewers: Jeffress, who missed the series opener because of neck spasms, pitched for the first time since Friday went 1 1/3 innings.
Brewers: RHP Zach Davies (2-7, 4.65 ERA) begins the three-game series at home Friday night against Detroit and RHP Jordan Zimmermann (7-8, 4.31 ERA). Davies, who is making his first career start against the Tigers, gave up two runs in four innings in a loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates last Saturday.
Cardinals: RHP Adam Wainwright (2-3, 4.08 ERA) gets the start in the opener of a three-game series at Chicago and RHP Kyle Hendricks (13-11, 3.49 ERA) on Friday afternoon. Wainwright leads all active pitchers with 15 wins against the Cubs and his 11 career wins at Wrigley Field is third all-time in franchise history behind Bob Gibson (15) and Harry Brecheen (13).