After winning the first two game of the three-game series by a combined score of 20-4, the Cardinals failed to sweep the visiting Brewers at Busch Stadium today. It was a game of miscues and missed opportunities for the Cardinals that ended with one of the stranger miscues and missed opportunity in recent memory, a play Brewers closer John Axford called "an I don't-know-what play."
Former American League Cy Young winner Zack Greinke started for the Brewers and was not particularly sharp. The righty issued four walks and allowed eleven base runners during his six innings, but the Cardinals only managed to plate one run against the ace. Their biggest miscue and missed opportunity occurred in the fifth inning. Starting pitcher Jaime Garcia led the inning off with a single and advanced to third on a subsequent Jon Jay single. Matt Holliday dug in next and lifted a fly ball to center field for the second out, a hit that should have resulted in a run. Instead of tagging on the fly ball, Garcia advanced towards home in a Suppanian fashion and was unable to retreat to third and tag in time to score. Instead of taking a 2-0 lead into the sixth, the Cards stayed at 1-0.
All of the Brewers' runs would come in the top of the sixth inning. Carlos Gomez lined a base hit to center to leadoff the inning. A hit-and-run kept a Ryan Braun grounder to shortstop from resulting in a double play. Aramis Ramirez continued to heat up at the play with an RBI single. This was followed by a play that exemplifies the notion of baseball as a game of inches in which Corey Hart singled on a ground ball that glanced off the mitt of third baseman. With two outs, catcher Johnathan Lucroy ripped a double off the left field wall. Ramirez and Hart scored; the Brew Crew led 3-1.
Garcia was allowed to hit for himself in the sixth and singled to extend the inning. After the Cardinals failed to score, Garcia came out for the seventh. His final line on the afternoon was a good one: 7 IP, 3 R, 3 ER, 6 SO, 1 BB, 9 H. The Brewers' lone extra-base hit on the day was Lucroy's go-ahead and game-winning double. In relief, Kyle McClellan and Marc Rzepczynski each required only six pitches to get through their respective innings.
The Cardinals would not go down quietly. They cut the Milwaukee lead in half during an eighth-inning rally off of Francisco Rodriguez. Matt Carpenter led the inning off with a double. Then, Skip Schumaker singled to left. Daniel Descalso pinch-hit and his soft grounders resulted in a force out at second when Schumaker did not slide and a run.
In the bottom of the ninth, Matt Holliday led off with a walk and Carlos Beltran singled. This put runners on the corners with nobody out. David Freese completed a strikeout hat trick with his third K of the game and Yadier Molina stepped up to the bat. On an 0-2 pitch, manager Mike Matheny sent Beltran from first to second. Molina swung and missed. Lucroy pump-faked a throw to second and then threw down. Beltran stopped to induce a rundown and pinch-runner Tyler Greene broke for home, where he would be the final out of the game in a K-2-6-2 double play.
The Little League double steal is a play we saw the Cardinals run in spring training. It was curious call in the bottom of the ninth inning. When asked about the tactical decision during his postgame press conference, Matheny simply said, "I'll just say that the play didn't go as planned...We wanted it to look different than how it turned out."
Per Twitter, BJ Rains of Fox Sports Midwest shared Greene's explanation of the play:
If he threw down, I was going to try to take off to home, but he almost pump-faked, so that kind of changed things a little bit...He faked like he was going to throw it and I was trying to get a good jump, but the pump fake just threw it off.
Tomorrow is an off day. The Cardinals welcome the Pittsburgh Pirates to Busch on Tuesday.