Never one to stray too far from his every-game-matters-the-same mantra Cardinals manager Mike Matheny did concede Tuesday that his team was “not oblivious” to the gravity of this series against the first-place Pirates. He went so far as to suggest that his team relished the chance to erase a lackluster showing in Pittsburgh two weeks ago by presenting “a different style the kind of style that we’ve had all season.”

The Cardinals did even better than that.

They showed Pittsburgh something they hadn’t done all season.

Adron Chambers flipped a one-out single into left field to score Jon Jay from second base and deliver a 4-3 victory in the 14th inning for the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. The win was the Cardinals’ first this season when trailing going into the ninth inning and it was only their second walk-off win of the season.

For a club that has savored its comeback credentials – its September surge in 2011 and its rally against Washington to win a division series last fall – these Cardinals have been more conundrum than cardiac. They had lost their previous 40 games when trailing after eight innings and in 117 games this season they had yet to come back to win when trailing by three runs or more. Their first came in Game No. 118.

“This was important to win” Jay said. “It’s just one of those games. We need to start making things happen.”

It took Starling Marte dropping a routine fly ball in the ninth inning to get things moving for the Cardinals. Allen Craig’s two-out single scored Daniel Descalso to tie the game and force extra innings. The Cardinals’ pitchers threw 12 consecutive scoreless innings to buy the offense time; seven of those shutout innings came from the bullpen and 2 1/3 from Seth Maness.

Three times the Cardinals got the winning run to third base in extra innings only to have a wrinkle in their lineup or a play by the Pirates push the game deeper into the night. The Pirates got one pivotal out by putting an infielder in the outfield and two more outs in the 11th inning by bringing in an outfielder to play infield. It was that kind of game.

In the 14th Jay’s fourth hit of the game skipped past shortstop Clint Barmes. With Chambers at the plate Jay stole second base. Chambers who had one hit in 10 at-bats since his promotion lashed a 2-2 sinker to left field. His teammates celebrated his walk-off single by tearing apart his jersey – a sign of affection Nick Punto started in 2011.

“I feel like I’ve been missing everything since I got here” Chambers said. “We were up (in the dugout) the whole game and I think that’s what kept us going.”

The win improved the Cardinals’ record in extra-inning games to 2-5 and it kept Pittsburgh from pulling ahead to a four-game lead in the division. A win by the Pirates would have assured they could sail away from this three-game visit to Busch in the same position they arrived first place. The Cardinals who will start Shelby Miller tonight and have Michael Wacha available in the bullpen can cut the Pirates’ lead to one game with another win and a tie atop the National League Central with a series sweep.

“That was” Matheny said “a big big win.”

Before getting to Chambers’ hit there were big big misses an early big big concern and one big big player removed from the game because of injury. The Cardinals bunted their way into and out of scoring chances in extra innings stranding 17 runners on base total. Ace Adam Wainwright fell behind 3-0 on two home runs by the Pirates in the first two innings and yet he was able to cover seven innings so that the bullpen didn’t wheeze into extra innings. And Matt Holliday wrenched his ankle in the 10th inning. That forced the Cardinals to put a pitcher in the cleanup spot and led to middle reliever Maness twice getting an at-bat with a chance to bring the winning run home from third base. He didn’t.

All of those events played into the chain reaction that allowed the Cardinals to survive extra innings and nearly cost them the win during extra innings.