Cardinals’ win puts thrilling finish on important division series

Tony Cruz and the Cardinals moved closer to their second straight NL Central title with a 3-2 victory over the Brewers on Thursday night.

Jeff Roberson/AP

ST. LOUIS — As third-string catcher, Tony Cruz is a long shot to be one of the 25 players on the Cardinals’ roster if they reach the postseason.

But Cruz will be able to find consolation in knowing he helped the Cardinals to one of their biggest victories of the regular season.

In a 13-inning game in which runs were harder to come by than empty seats at Busch Stadium during the postseason, Cruz delivered a one-out single up the middle that scored Matt Adams from second base and gave the Cardinals a 3-2 walk-off victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Cruz had not appeared in a game in 10 days and didn’t enter this one until the 10th inning. In his first at-bat, in the 11th, he lined into a double play on a failed hit-and-run after Jhonny Peralta had led off with a single. But two innings later, Cruz became the hero.

"I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit and stay hard up the middle," Cruz said. "Luckily, I got a pitch out over the plate, stayed up the middle with it."

The ground single off hard-throwing Jimmy Nelson scooted through the infield and then slowed down enough on center fielder Carlos Gomez that he was unable to make a throw to beat the burly Adams to the plate, though the play was close.

"City ran his butt off there to get home," Cruz said of the teammate nicknamed Big City.

Cruz’s only other walk-off hit came in July 2011, against the Diamondbacks. With the Cardinals needing a victory to keep their 2 1/2-game lead over the Pirates, the situation was a little bigger this time.

"Any way you can contribute is huge," Cruz said. "You don’t want to scoreboard watch but it goes on, especially this time of year.

"This was not about me. It’s about team. I’m glad we got a team win there."

3 UP

— Shelby Miller. He continued his strong pitching of late by allowing only one earned run in six innings. Miller came out throwing fastballs and it worked as he retired the first 11 Brewers he faced. But then Jonathan Lucroy doubled on what appeared to be a pretty good curve and Aramis Ramirez singled him in on the next pitch. Miller hurt his cause in the fifth when he fielded a sacrifice bunt and, going for the force at second, threw the ball into center field. An unearned run resulted after a forceout and two-out infield single (that initially was ruled an error).

Miller was hit in the lower right leg by Ryan Braun’s hard grounder in the sixth but stayed in the game and retired the next batter. Due up first in the bottom of the inning, Miller departed for pinch-hitter Daniel Descalso with the Cardinals down, 2-0. Miller had his leg wrapped after the game but said he should be fine for his next start.

— Two-out rally in the eighth. Trailing 2-0 and four outs from losing the series, the Cardinals had a runner on second and the top of the order coming up. It came through with hustle as much as anything. Leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter walked and Jon Jay delivered a run-scoring single. Then Matt Holliday made a defining play by beating out an infield single that took a headfirst slide and an overturned out call on a replay review to complete. Adams then drew his second bases-loaded walk of the series to tie the game.

"I don’t think many of us are big fans of that diving into first base trick, but apparently it worked today," manager Mike Matheny said.

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Although Carpenter came home on the infield hit, he was sent back to third when the umpires ruled he had just passed third base when the call was made on Holliday.

— Starting pitching. The last time a Cardinals starter allowed more than one earned run was Sept. 10, when John Lackey gave up four before he was ejected. In the seven games since, the Cardinals’ rotation has a 1.09 ERA.

2 DOWN

— Early offense. On Wednesday, the Cardinals didn’t mount a threat until the seventh. On Thursday, they went until the eighth before they scored. Only once in the first seven innings did they reach two runners. Kyle Lohse limited his former team to four hits in 7 1/3 innings and left with the Brewers up, 2-1. Lohse had allowed 15 earned runs in 14 innings in his three previous starts against the Cardinals this season.

— Power offense. After pounding out 10 extra-base hits against the Rockies, the Cardinals did not get an extra-base hit against the Brewers until Yadier Molina led off the bottom of the ninth with a double to the fence in left-center. Molina, however, would be stranded when Peter Bourjos struck out trying to bunt, Randal Grichuk took a called third strike and Carpenter struck out on a checked swing.

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter @StanMcNeal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.