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story.lead_photo.caption Cardinals starter J.A. Happ throws to the plate during Sunday afternoon's game against the Reds at Busch Stadium. Photo by Associated Press / News Tribune.

ST. LOUIS — J.A. Happ can finally get a good night of sleep.

The St. Louis left-hander threw 51/3 shutout innings in the Cardinals' 2-0 victory Sunday against the Cincinnati Reds.

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 N.L. 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 of a 12-2 loss Sept. 1 at Cincinnati.

That performance stuck in his mind.

"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, 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 Garcia, McFarland, Genesis Cabrera and Giovanny Gallegos finished, 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 in 32/3 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 in 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.

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 as strike.

Notes: The Cardinals have won nine of their last 12 day home games. They are 15-9 at home in afternoon contests this season. 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. Cardinals RHP Adam Wainwright (15-7, 2.98) will face New York Mets LHP Rich Hill (6-6, 3.82) tonight 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.

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