Wolf leads Brewers over Cardinals 4-2 to even NLCS
The 35-year-old left-hander blames himself for Milwaukee’s division series against Arizona going the distance. He was more relieved than elated after his first career postseason win got the Brewers back to even in the NL championship series.
He ensured that the pennant will be decided at Miller Park.
“Just to be able to get another opportunity to pitch again was important,” Wolf said after outfoxing the St. Louis Cardinals for seven innings of a 4-2 victory in Game 4 Thursday night. “It’s kind of a weird word, but it’s redemption to go back out there.”
Ryan Braun had two hits and an RBI, giving him a .471 average (16 for 34) with two homers and nine RBIs in the postseason. Jerry Hairston Jr. doubled twice with an RBI plus a nifty slide at the plate to avoid a tag.
The Brewers ended a three-game road losing streak this postseason, and an eight-game slide dating to the 1982 World Series opener at St. Louis.
“Eight? Oh, like in ’82?” Hairston said. “Come on, man. I guess we can blame them for most of those losses, right?”
Wolf ended a lengthy drought of his own — before Thursday, his 342 starts without a postseason victory were the most among active pitchers. Game 4 loser Kyle Lohse moves to second on the list at 298 starts, trailing only Ted Lilly’s 318.
The Cardinals were fooled by an assortment of off-speed stuff, with some pitches as slow as the mid-60s. Wolf retired 13 of the last 15 he faced, the lone damage coming on homers by Matt Holliday and Allen Craig.
“He wasn’t overthrowing,” catcher George Kottaras said. “He was pitching a lot more, keeping hitters off balance and throwing his breaking ball for strikes early.
“When he does that, he’s very successful.”
It was a huge improvement from Game 4 of the NL division series at Arizona in which Wolf surrendered seven runs in three innings of a 10-6 loss. Wolf said Game 5 was the “most stressful game I’ve ever watched in my life.”
“You know, I’ll be honest with you, the day after the Diamondbacks start I didn’t eat or shower,” Wolf said. “I don’t know if they call that depression, but it was tough to swallow.
“So I was just really happy that we came through.”
Francisco Rodriguez allowed a hit in the eighth and John Axford finished for his second save of the series and third this postseason.
Jaime Garcia faces Zack Greinke for the second time in the series in Game 5 Friday night. Either way, the NLCS will be decided in Milwaukee.
“Our fans are unbelievable,” Hairston said. “That being said, the Cardinals are a great team no matter where you play.”
The Brewers were a major league-best 57-24 at home and 39-42 on the road.
“We play a lot better at home,” Rodriguez said. “Definitely, tomorrow will be a good game and hopefully we can take it from them and go home and try to finish it.”
The Cardinals’ bullpen got a heavy workload for the fourth straight game after Lohse, pitching on 12 days’ rest, failed to make it out of the fifth.
“I’m not going to blame it on the layoff,” Lohse said. “We’re professionals and we’ve got to get the job done. Tonight, we didn’t do it.”
Albert Pujols was a quiet 1 for 4 for St. Louis, which was 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position and is 0 for 15 after the first inning of Game 3.
“We’ve been in this situation, it’s best two out of three,” Pujols said. “We’ve got to win tomorrow because it’s going to be tough in Milwaukee.”
Lohse sailed through three innings and then allowed three doubles and three runs to his last eight hitters, and was charged with three runs in 4 1-3 innings. St. Louis relievers have worked 17 1-3 innings in the series.
Two of La Russa’s moves paid off.
Bumped down one spot to fifth, Holliday hit his first postseason homer and doubled. Craig started in place of Lance Berkman, who was 3 for 32 lifetime against Wolf and had a minor right thigh bruise, and hit his first career postseason homer to make it 2-0 in the third.
Then Wolf shut it down.
“In the situation we’re in now, everything is kind of magnified,” Ryan Theriot said. “You’ve got the get those guys in when you have the chance to do it.”
The Brewers tied it in the fourth with their first runs since the third inning of Game 3 on doubles by Prince Fielder and Hairston, and an RBI single by Yuniesky Betancourt. Braun’s RBI single off Mitchell Boggs put Milwaukee in front in the fifth.
The Cardinals’ streak of scoring in the first inning ended at five games when they went down in order.