ST. LOUIS -- Even John Gant cracked a smile.
Gant homered for his first major league hit and pitched one-run ball into the sixth inning, helping the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Washington Nationals 6-4 on Tuesday night for their season-high seventh consecutive victory.
Kolten Wong had three hits and three RBI as St. Louis (65-55) pulled within four games of the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs and moved within one game of the Philadelphia Phillies for the second NL wild card. The Cardinals also improved to 18-9 since Mike Shildt was named interim manager on July 13, the most wins for a manager through his first 27 games in franchise history.
"Things are starting to click for us," Wong said. "We're playing confident. We're out there playing aggressive and I think it's the kind of baseball Cardinals fans have been waiting for."
The Nationals (60-60) have dropped six of eight to fall eight games behind Atlanta in the NL East.
"We've just got to keep pulling the same rope, keep grinding it out, keep trying to win ballgames," Nationals slugger Bryce Harper said.
Gant (5-4) permitted four hits and struck out six in 5 1/3 innings. He has given up just two earned runs over 11 1/3 innings in his last two starts, both wins.
The 26-year-old Gant was 0 for 30 for his career when he drove a 1-1 pitch from Gio Gonzalez (7-9) over the wall in left in the second. The two-run shot gave Washington a 3-0 lead.
"I was jogging kind of my hands in the air," said Wong, who scored on Gant's homer. "I already knew it was going out. Looking back I think he almost caught me."
Added Gant, "I thought it was going to hit the wall maybe but when I finally looked up and (Wong) was looking back at me, that's when I knew it was going over the wall."
Gant, who has a reputation for being a stoic player, admitted to smiling "once or twice" once he got back to the dugout.
"We have a 25-man roster and we have confidence in all of them," Shildt said. "They're here for a reason and guys are looking to contribute every night and in different ways."
Gonzalez was charged with five runs and five hits in four innings. The veteran left-hander is just 1-4 in his last six starts.
"I wasn't hitting my spots," Gonzalez said. "Just not being as consistent in the strike zone as I should be. It's just one of those games you can't explain."
St. Louis star Yadier Molina played in his 22nd consecutive game, the most by a catcher 35 years or older in major league history.
Nationals: Reliever Ryan Madson was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a back injury. RHP Trevor Gott and LHP Tim Collins were promoted from Triple-A Syracuse, LHP Sammy Solis was sent down, and RHP Erick Fedde was moved from the 10-day to the 60-day disabled list.
Cardinals: OF Tyler O'Neill (groin) was activated from the 10-day disabled list and OF Adolis Garcia was optioned to Triple-A Memphis.
The Nationals will start right-hander Jeremy Hellickson (5-2, 3.54 ERA) in the third game of a four-game set. Austin Gomber (2-0, 3.45 ERA) pitches for the Cardinals on Wednesday night. Hellickson is 2-2 with a 4.13 ERA in five career starts against St. Louis. Gomber is coming off his first win as a starter in a 7-0 Cardinals victory against the Kansas City Royals last Friday.
Check out some of the nastiest pitches that stunned batters in the box including Adam Wainwright's curveball and Jordan Hicks' fastball.
Wei-Yin Chen will make his final home start of the season Friday in a year in which he has been dominant at Marlins Park.
The Tampa Bay Rays have even less room for error to keep their postseason hopes alive after dropping the opener of a four-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays in shocking fashion Thursday night in Toronto.
Angels catcher Francisco Arcia becomes the first player in MLB history to catch, take the mound and hit a home run in Los Angeles' 21-3 defeat in Oakland.
The American League East race is officially over and the New York Yankees can turn their focus toward more pressing matters.
The Red Sox celebrate their third-straight division title with a party in their locker room at Yankee Stadium.