While the potential for history swirls around the first-place Cardinals all week, the Milwaukee Brewers, the reigning division champs, arrived with their present at stake.
Their last stand as the only remaining challenger to the Cardinals for the National League Central crown begins with a two-game visit and an opener that, at first glance, left them vulnerable to falling nine games behind with 20 games to play. The Brewers opted to go with an opener Tuesday night at Busch Stadium and run a relay race of relievers to try and cover nine innings. The Cardinals had arguably their best starter of the second half set to start and a lineup designed as an answer to Brewers’ bullpen start.
It did not go as imagined.
After swapping leads in the early innings, the Brewers did what the Cardinals could not — maintain a steady offense. Milwaukee broke a tie in the fifth inning and pressed on for a 8-4 victory. Andrew McCutchen’s two-run homer in the fifth inning against lefty Jordan Montgomery snapped a 4-4 tie and sent Montgomery (8-4) toward his first loss as a Cardinal. The Brewers added a couple of runs late, including a single and steal for Kolten Wong, and the Cardinals’ vanished against the parade of pitchers.
Milwaukee used eight different pitchers and held the Cardinals scoreless for the final seven innings of the game to freeze their magic number at 14.
Brewers get a haul off Monty
For only the second time in eight starts since coming to the Cardinals when they made a deal at the deadline, Montgomery left a game with his new team trailing.
For the first time, that ended in a loss.
Montgomery, previously 5-0 with the Cardinals this season, allowed four runs in the first two innings and wouldn’t get a real grip on the game until the third. In the fifth, McCutchen tagged Montgomery’s hovering curve for the two-run homer that effectively ended his start. Montgomery allowed six runs — included two unearned in the first inning — for the most in any start for the Cardinals. The first ball the Brewers put in play against Montgomery, glanced off Lars Nootbaar’s glove in right field as he tried to make an off-balance catch. Nootbaar then slipped at the warning track to help put a rally in motion for the Brewers.
Milwaukee had a 2-0 lead in the first, took a 4-2 lead in the second, and by the time Montgomery got to the third he’d faced 13 batters and allowed five hits, three of them doubles. Of the seven hits Montgomery allowed, five went for extra bases.
Cardinals counter Crew’s start by committee
Knowing they would get only an inning against the Brewers’ starter — and it was even less than that — the Cardinals did not gear their lineup for that matchup.
Rather, Marmol wrote it to complicate any matchup.
By moving center fielder and right-handed hitter Tyler O’Neill down to No. 9 in the order, the Cardinals started a lineup Tuesday night that did not feature three consecutive hitters batting from the same side of the plate. With the three-batter minimum rule, that assured that as Milwaukee cycled through relievers in an advertised bullpen game, there was a good chance — if not a guarantee — that one matchup would line up better for the Cardinals. Only in two places did the Cardinals have back-to-back right-handed hitters, and one of them was at the tail end with O’Neill at ninth.
“Our lineup is structured in a way where it combats the righty-lefty matchups,” Marmol said. “And it doesn’t create lanes of comfort for either one of those.”
The way the lineup rolled, however, the Cardinals did miss one of the matchups they would have tried to create if possible. Brewers manager Craig Counsell waited for Albert Pujols’ spot in the order to pass as the final out of the fifth inning before going to lefty reliever Hoby Milner. Still, with a pinch-hitter, the Cardinals had three right-handed batters set to face him.
Milner retired them in order.
Opener out quick
Before the Cardinals could answer the Brewers with a first-inning rally to take the lead, Milwaukee starter Matt Bush was already out of the game. The Brewers did not intend to get much from right-hander Bush, but after delivering a pitcher to cleanup hitter Nolan Arenado, Bush felt a twinge of pain in his groin that limited his ability to continue.
The first two batters of the game had reached base against Bush and stood in scoring position when Arenado sizzled a foul ball down the third-base line.
Already primed to scramble throughout the game, the Brewers’ bullpen quickly provided a replacement in Peter Strzelecki. Arenado tagged the first pitch from the right-hander for a two-run double that tied the game, 2-2, and moved Arenado within five RBIs of becoming the Cardinals’ second player with at least 100. Arenado scored on Pujols’ flare down the right-field line to give the Cardinals a brief lead.
The RBI was Pujols’ 2,199th.
He is set to become the third player ever with at least 2,200.
So will Pujols play every home game?
Marmol acknowledge the “balance” he’s attempting to strike between writing out the lineup that gives his team the most favorable matchup in that evening’s game and the one that includes the headliner more than 40,000 fans are coming to see. The Cardinals are expecting packed houses this week as Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright set the major-league record for starts by a battery Wednesday with their 325th together and Pujols chases his 700th career home run.
The Cardinals’ hearty lead in the division gives them some latitude with the lineup, but when asked Tuesday, Marmol acknowledged the role the team has to play to the crowd.
“I’ll look at it day to day and make sure that we’re giving ourselves the best shot to accomplish everything that we want to accomplish,” he said. “Couldn’t agree more (about baseball being entertainment). Right there with you. I want to see 700 just as much as anybody, if not more than everybody.”
Edman extends hit streak, ties steal lead
With singles in back-to-back at-bats to start the game, Cardinals infielder Tommy Edman extended his hitting streak to 14 games, pushing ahead his career high. He also stole second base each time for his 28th and 29th steals of the season. Edman’s swipe of second was his 43rd at Busch Stadium III, and that tied former teammate and current Brewer Wong for the all-time lead at the 16-year-old ballpark.
Well, for a few innings. Wong stole his 44th in the eighth.
Vince Coleman, the speedster who ran his way into the Cardinals’ Hall of Fame, had 317 steals at Busch Stadium II. Hall of Famer Lou Brock outpaced that with 383 steals there.
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