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On the 18th day, they rested.

The lineup said it long before Wednesday’s 4-0 loss to the Brewers on a field that had beer spilled on it the night before.

Tommy Edman, Tyler O’Neill, Nolan Arenado and Yadier Molina were on the bench.

The Streak had served its purpose.

Consecutive win No. 17 on Tuesday night clinched the National League's second wild card. The quest for No. 18 was not entirely punted Wednesday. But it wasn't the priority. And it should not have been.

The hottest team in baseball is now more focused on preparing for a one-game wild-card showdown with whichever 100-plus win titan comes out of the NL West in second place. A massive challenge for the Cardinals in California is fast approaching. They must do some things now to prepare to take their best shot. For those grumbling about the off days handed out Wednesday, a quick reminder. The last time Shildt picked his spots to rest his guys during the Dodgers series, the Cardinals responded with a split in the four-game series that started what has now become a 19-2 surge.

The Streak deserves a proper sendoff. It made September in St. Louis feel like it's supposed to feel. It swept us up in something we'd never watched before. Then it unlocked an opportunity for this team to do something even sweeter. That's the focus now. It's why The Streak more or less ended on the Cardinals' terms.

"I will remember the togetherness,” Shildt said after guiding the Cardinals to their longest winning streak in team history. “That’s the thing that first jumps out to me. The absolute belief in everybody. And every moment. Everybody was just laying it out there every single opportunity you got. There are so many moments in that streak where people stepped up and got it done. And got it done. And got it done. And got it done. And got it done. It was everybody on the roster who was a part of that. That’s my favorite part about it, because I’m a big team guy. I love seeing our group of guys go out and play the way they played. Free. Aggressive. Hungry.”

Eighteen days. Seventeen wins. Thirteen against NL competition with postseason plans or at least hopes. Four sweeps, and two of them were four-game series, on the road. FanGraphs’ postseason projections assigned the Cardinals a 5 percent chance of winning the NL’s second-wild card on September 10. The Streak started the next day, and the Cardinals clinched the wild-card spot Tuesday, with five games to go.

The Cardinals outscored their opponents 115-53, averaging .292 and slugging .540 while scoring an average of 6.8 runs per game. No NL team could match their 34 home runs and 74 extra-base hits during the surge. Five of baseball’s top-25 home-run hitters during the blitz wore the birds on the bat: Paul Goldschmidt (seven), Tyler O’Neill (seven), Nolan Arenado (five) and Harrison Bader (four).

Cardinals pitchers produced baseball’s best ERA (2.92) while totaling the most saves (10) and (holds) of any team during the span. Twice they shut an opponent out. Nine times they held one to two or fewer runs.

Shildt's guys stole 12 bases and got caught stealing zero times. They made more web gems than a spider with a BeDazzler. They showed up to the ballpark, Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. observed, knowing they were going to win.

The Streak got old enough, in baby terms, to recognize its parents’ faces. A crew of private citizens launched, reached space orbit and returned safely to Earth during its run. It spanned National Chocolate Milk Day, National Punch Day and National Drink Beer Day. It started in the summer, but ended in the fall. Now comes October.

Already, the Cardinals are being pointed to as an example of the kind of club that can’t be trusted in the postseason because of how hot it got to end the regular season. The history is there. It's not encouraging.

Cleveland won 22 in a row between August and September of 2017 and got bounced from its first series.

Oakland won 20 consecutive games between August and September of 2002 and got bounced from its first series.

Kansas City won 16 in a row between August and September of 1977 and got bounced from its first series.

You get the point.

If the Cardinals are going to knock off the Dodgers or the Giants in the wild-card game, opening the realm of possibilities for what could await them after that, doing so will have nothing to do with September's win total.

What it could have everything to do with, though, is how those September wins were earned against stiff competition.

Accurate, efficient pitching. A dynamic lineup that can manufacture runs in many ways. Suffocating defense. Lethal baserunning. Full trust in one another. Nothing surrendered. Every surrendered inch taken.

These were the key ingredients blended together daily during The Streak.

They should not necessarily have an October expiration.

“Man, that was a cool run,” Shildt said. “But let’s start another one.”

Sports columnists Ben Frederickson and Jeff Gordon discuss the fact and fiction of The Mighty Mo. And they're not talking about John Mozeliak. Momentum! The Cardinals have it in excess during their surge. Will it bridge the gap between September and October? History says it's no guarantee, but the real secret might be how the Cardinals have created this run, not the run itself.

Ben Frederickson

@Ben_Fred on Twitter

bfrederickson@post-dispatch.com

This article originally ran on stltoday.com.

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