CINCINNATI -- Shaun Marcum was wheeling his bag of belongings past the bank of televisions in the visitors' clubhouse when a final score flashed on the screen.
The Milwaukee Brewers had just gained a game, keeping their wild-card chances flickering.
Marcum got his first win since returning from an elbow problem, and Ryan Braun hit his NL-leading 41st home run on Wednesday night for an 8-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds that allowed the Brewers another day to dream.
They moved to 3˝ games behind St. Louis for the final NL wild-card spot when the Cardinals lost to Houston 2-0, a game that ended as the Brewers headed for the bus. The Dodgers also are 3˝ back.
"Great," Marcum said. "Can't leapfrog them if they don't lose."
At this point, it's a matter of playing well enough to extend the NL's final race. The Brewers have done their part, winning 26 of 34 while keeping the Cardinals in range.
"We're playing really good," manager Ron Roenicke said. "At this point where we've put ourselves, unfortunately we need help from somebody. But if we continue to play well, it gives us a chance that somebody can get hot and come in and beat them.
"At this point, they're all critical games. They're not going to lose that much."
Marcum (6-4) went six innings for his first victory since returning from an elbow problem, allowing only four hits, including Joey Votto's RBI double.
"Today was the way he pitches," Roenicke said. "Today we were really happy with the way he threw the ball. This is how he pitches when he's really going well."
Marcum had his best control since he's been back.
"I'm finally feeling back to where the ball's coming out of my hand with some life on it now and I'm getting the movement on the pitches I need," he said.
Cincinnati managed only six hits and stranded nine runners, the Reds' most disappointing game offensively since they clinched the NL Central on Saturday night.
"To tell you the truth, I don't know what it is," second baseman Brandon Phillips said. "I don't know why we're not getting hits. Maybe it's because we made the playoffs. But we need to wake up. We're just not getting it done right now. I feel like we need to step it up, especially me."
Norichika Aoki homered to start a three-run third inning off Bronson Arroyo (12-9) and added an RBI double. Braun, the NL's Most Valuable Player last season as the Brewers won the NL Central, hit a two-run shot in the seventh off Logan Ondrusek.
Jonathan Lucroy also homered and had three hits.
The Reds played all of their healthy regulars even though they have clinched. Bench coach Chris Speier made out the lineup and checked with manager Dusty Baker, who changed it slightly.
Baker was hospitalized four days in Chicago last week for treatment of an irregular heartbeat and a mini-stroke. The 63-year-old manager visited the ballpark in the afternoon. Baker hopes to return to managing for the final series in St. Louis next week.
Cincinnati fell a game behind Washington for best record in the majors and the top seed in the NL playoffs. The Reds conclude the series against Milwaukee on Thursday, then end the regular season with three games in Pittsburgh and three in St. Louis.
The Brewers play their final six games at home against Houston and San Diego.
Marcum saved their slim hopes for another day by emerging from his rut. The right-hander went on the disabled list in June with tightness in his right elbow. He was 0-1 with a 5.16 ERA in his first six games back, but finally got that elusive win on Wednesday.
Votto's RBI double in the first caromed off the wall in left field, a few feet from the top. It was an encouraging sign for Votto, who hasn't homered in his 18 games back from knee surgery. The first baseman missed 48 games because of torn cartilage and doesn't expect the knee to be back to normal until next season.
Votto, the NL's Most Valuable Player in 2010, is batting .339 with 20 walks and one hit by pitch since his return.
The Reds loaded the bases in the fifth on a single and two walks, but Marcum got Scott Rolen to go down swinging on a 2-2 pitch, ending the Reds' last chance.
Arroyo had been in one of his good stretches, going 5-1 in his last eight starts with a 2.60 ERA. The Brewers put together five consecutive hits with two outs in the third for a 3-1 lead. Aoki hit his 10th homer to start the rally.
Aoki's homer broke an 0-for-14 slump. ... Lightning drew oohs from the crowd as a small storm moved just south of the ballpark in the second inning. There was no rain and the game continued without delay. ... Braun's homer moved him ahead of Cecil Cooper into fifth place on the franchise homer list with 202. He hit 33 homers last season. ... Reds C Ryan Hanigan was back after missing one game with a bruised shoulder.