Milwaukee Brewers avoid sweep against Cardinals

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By Tom Haudricourt
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wednesday, April 16, 2014

MILWAUKEE--Considering the baseball season is a marathon of 162 games, it’s difficult to call a game in mid-April an important one.

But this was an important one for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Avoiding a sweep that would have taken the steam out of their nine-game winning streak, not to mention furthering the notion that they can’t beat St. Louis, the Brewers used strong pitching and a few clutch hits to topple the Cardinals, 5-1, Wednesday afternoon at Miller Park.

“It felt pretty good,” said catcher Jonathan Lucroy, whose two-run single sparked a three-run rally in the fifth inning. “That’s a pretty good team over there. They’ve had some momentum against us the past few years. It was nice to get a win.

“To come off a 4-2 homestand, that’s pretty good. We do that the rest of the year, we’re going to be there at the end. We’re glad to pull one out against them on the last day.”

To beat the Cardinals for only the sixth time in the last 22 meetings, the Brewers turned the tables on them. Shut down by St. Louis’ starting pitchers in the first two games, the Brewers turned to big right-hander Wily Peralta to give the Cards some of their own medicine.

Peralta (2-0, 1.96 earned-run average) was up to the challenge, limiting the defending National League champs to six hits and one run in 61/3 innings. He also had six assists and one putout, taking shots off both the back and foot in the process, and started the two-out rally in the fifth with a wicked line-drive single off the glove of shortstop Jhonny Peralta.

“It was really important after losing those two games to win this one,” said the Brewers’ starter. “I’m glad I was able to make good pitches and have a good ball game.

“They hit a lot of ground balls to me. I had a lot of work today. I’m glad that I got the outs on both (balls) that hit me.”

Of Peralta’s performance, Lucroy said, “He was a show-stopper today. He stopped their momentum and shut them down. He was a lot of fun to catch.”

The Brewers took advantage of some breaks to finally put runs on the board after being held to a total of six hits and one run in the first two games. An error by first baseman Matt Adams led to an RBI double by Carlos Gomez in the third.

Things turned against the Cardinals after starting pitcher Joe Kelly had to leave with left hamstring tightness, the result of trying to leg out a bunt hit in the top of the fifth. Sean Maness took over for Kelly and retired the first two hitters in the bottom of the inning before Wily Peralta ripped his knuckling liner off the glove of Jhonny Peralta.

After a walk to Gomez and Jean Segura’s infield hit loaded the bases, Lucroy quickly fell behind in the count, 0-2. After fouling off a pitch, he smacked a fastball from Maness through the right side of the infield for his two-run hit.

“It’s just about putting the ball in play hard somewhere,” said Lucroy. “I happened to hit it in the right spot and it worked out for us.”

After Peralta departed, the Brewers’ excellent bullpen (1.33 ERA) went to work. Will Smith pitched out of a first-and-third, one-out jam in the seventh by getting pinch hitter Shane Robinson to ground into a double play; Tyler Thornburg pitched another perfect inning (he has retired 20 hitters in a row); and Francisco Rodriguez stranded a pair of runners in the ninth.

The Cardinals’ formula for success has been to get to a lock-down bullpen with leads behind strong starting pitching and clutch hitting. The Brewers have used that blueprint as well this season and did so to salvage the series finale.

“We still believe that we’re a good team even though we didn’t win this series,” said Smith, who has yet to allow a run in eight outings. “We’ll just go back out and try to win another one in Pittsburgh.”

Manager Ron Roenicke tried to downplay the importance of ending the Cardinals’ recent dominance of his club but didn’t deny it was a big game to win at this early stage of the season.

“Obviously, I like beating everybody,” said Roenicke. “What’s really important, the most important thing, is we lost two games to begin the series and we got that game back. It’s an important swing.

“It’s more important against our division just because we don’t want guys to take off. We have to win more games than they do. It’s not head to head. We have to win more games this season than they do. That’s what we’re playing for.”

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