Pitching does wonders for Crew
Left-hander Manny Parra recovered from a rocky beginning and the bullpen stared down slugger Albert Pujols not once but twice as the Milwaukee Brewers held on for a 4-3 victory Thursday over St. Louis to avoid a three-game sweep at Busch Stadium.
“That was a sound game,” said Parra, who has excelled when facing the Cardinals this year in an otherwise up-and-down season.
Sound pitching and defense make all the difference in the world, as the Brewers discovered in pulling out what manager Ken Macha described as “an intense ball game.” The pitching part has eluded them for most of the second half, causing the club to fall out of the playoff race.
It looked like it might be another of those days when the Cardinals’ first batter, Julio Lugo, socked a home run to touch off a two-run rally. But Parra recovered nicely and did not allow another runner to cross the plate during his 6 1/3-inning stint.
“I had to regain my focus,” said Parra, who evened his record at 10-10 with a 6.47 earned run average. “I went to 3-2 on the leadoff hitter and gave him a ‘cookie.’”
After being blanked for three innings by veteran John Smoltz, the Brewers finally broke through on Casey McGehee’s sacrifice fly in the fourth. McGehee, who drove in nine runs in the series, capped a three-run outburst in the sixth against Smoltz with a two-run homer.
“It comes down to the guys in front of you getting on base,” said McGehee. “All three games, the guys did a good job of getting on base.”
That left it to the bullpen to escape a white-knuckle situation in the bottom of the seventh. With a runner on and one out, David Weathers relieved Parra and surrendered a double to pinch-hitter Troy Glaus. After Lugo walked to load the bases, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa sent left-handed-hitting Skip Schumaker to bat for Brendan Ryan even though Ryan was hitting .294 against righties.
Macha countered with left-hander Mitch Stetter, so La Russa switched to right-handed-hitting Khalil Greene, a .208 hitter. Greene took a called third strike.
, and La Russa later admitted he probably outsmarted himself.
Macha then summoned right-hander Claudio Vargas, who engaged Pujols in a seven-pitch battle as the crowd buzzed. With the count 3-2, Vargas got a fastball in on Pujols, who bounced out to third.
You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief emanate from the visiting dugout.
“For me, that might have been the most intense moment in my career,” said Vargas. “He’s one of the best hitters in baseball. With the bases loaded, you can’t walk him. I just tried to keep the ball down.”
The Cardinals made it a one-run game when Matt Holliday homered to lead off the eighth, but Vargas worked around a pair of one-out walks by picking off Colby Rasmus at first base. That left it to Trevor Hoffman to close out the division leaders in the ninth.
A one-out bunt single by Lugo assured that Pujols would get one last at-bat with two down. But Hoffman carved him up on three pitches — an 86-mph fastball that Pujols took, a 73-mph changeup he swung through and an 86-mph fastball that the best hitter in the game was late on.
“That was amazing,” said Brewers catcher Mike Rivera. “He had Pujols waiting for the changeup and went with a fastball away. He had him guessing.”
So, for one day, the Brewers had a reprieve from their ongoing pitching woes. Parra boosted his record to 2-1 with a 2.42 ERA in four starts against the Cardinals this season, showing he has the talent to beat worthy opponents.
“The stuff is there,” said Macha. “We’ve talked about that. You’d like to see him get over the hump and be able to do that consistently.”