In a race for a playoff spot, needing help from the Houston Astros is not advisable. For one night anyway, the Braves received such assistance and were able to keep their wild-card lead.

Angel Sanchez celebrates with Jimmy Paredes (38) and Matt Downs(16) after laying down a game-winning bunt to lift the Astros over the Cardinals. (Bob Levey/GETTY IMAGES)

A share of the NL wild-card lead was there for the taking for the Cardinals, who trailed Atlanta by 8 1/2 games earlier this month. Quality left-hander Wandy Rodriguez was out of the game. St. Louis had tied the score at 4 in the eighth inning after Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, who had both just moved up on an aggressive double steal, scored on former Astro Lance Berkman’s double.

Then right-hander Enerio Del Rosario, who has a 4.19 ERA in 64 career games, kept the game tied by escaping a second-and-third, one-out situation. In the bottom of the 10th, Houston pulled off the victory after pinch hitter Brian Bogusevic doubled. A two-way star at Tulane, Bogusevic stalled in Class AA as a pitcher before reaching the majors as an outfielder. Last night, two bunts brought him from second to home, with second baseman Angel Sanchez providing the game-winner on a safety squeeze.

Those little-known Astros weren’t the only unlikely figures playing roles in wild-card races last night. Baltimore, which has been a spoiler all of September, was at it again with a win over Boston. Later in the night, the Los Angeles Angels were eliminated even though Texas ace left-hander C.J. Wilson, whose team is already playoff-bound, pitched just two innings.

In the first game after a ninth-inning meltdown against Oakland, the Angels suffered a 4-3 loss to the Rangers in which righty Mark Hamburger pitched 3 2/3 innings of one-run relief for his first major league win.

Just as role players can become stars in October, virtual no-names can alter teams’ fates in September. The Braves, who lost their third in a row last night, will send veterans to the mound for the final two games at home against the Phillies (Derek Lowe vs. Roy Oswalt and then Tim Hudson vs. probably Kyle Kendrick, with some Cole Hamels in relief). Despite last night’s result in Houston, it’s in their best interest to win them both.

The Astros will start Henry Sosa and Brett Myers against Jake Westbrook and Chris Carpenter in two matchups of right-handers. Both wild-card races have been filled with games that slipped away — even Tampa Bay, which is tied with Boston with two games left in the AL, has had a couple of bad losses this month — but at some point the Braves probably will have to do some winning of their own.