All those clutch hits by Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals disappeared Thursday night.
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Randy Wolf flummoxed the Cardinals with pitches that were slow, slower and slowest, leading the Milwaukee Brewers to a 4-2 victory that tied the NL championship series 2-all.
St. Louis scored 22 runs in the first 19 innings of the playoff series, including four in the first inning Wednesday. Though shut out through the rest of the way, the Cardinals held on to win 4-3 in Game 3.
But after solo homers put St. Louis up 2-0 through three innings Thursday, the Cardinals couldn’t put anything together. They were 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position and failed twice to get a man home from third with less than two outs.
Wolf baffled them with a changeup clocked consistently around 65 mph.
”We had a couple of chances to add a run and Wolf made outstanding pitches,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. ”These are productive guys. He just made really good pitches.”
Milwaukee ended an eight-game road losing streak in the postseason dating to the 1982 World Series opener at St. Louis.
Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia faces Zack Greinke for the second time in the series in Game 5 on Friday night. Either way, the best-of-seven NLCS will be decided back at Miller Park.
”It feels good to know that we’re at least going to get to go back home,” said Ryan Braun, who singled home the go-ahead run in the fifth.
Pujols, who was 6 for 7 with two intentional walks the previous two games, went 1 for 4 with a harmless single in the fifth.
Yadier Molina came up three times with runners in scoring position and made outs each time, grounding out with two on in the third, lining out to center with a man on second for the first out in the sixth and striking out with a runner on second to end the eighth.
Since the first inning of Wednesday’s game, the Cardinals are 0 for 15 with runners in scoring position.
Another so-so starting pitching performance didn’t help. After solo homers by Matt Holliday in the second and Allen Craig in the third gave St. Louis the lead, Kyle Lohse couldn’t hold it, allowing three runs in 4 1-3 innings to take the loss.
Wolf went seven innings for his first postseason win at age 35. He allowed six hits, struck out six and walked one.
The Cardinals couldn’t capitalize on their few opportunities. After Holliday’s homer they had runners on first and third with one out in the second, but Jon Jay’s chopper to first failed to score the run and Lohse struck out.
In the sixth, Holliday led off with a double and went to third on Molina’s liner. But Ryan Theriot struck out and Jay flied out to center.
Francisco Rodriguez allowed a hit in the eighth and John Axford finished for his second save of the series and third this postseason.
Jerry Hairston Jr. doubled twice with an RBI and Wolf hit one of the Brewers’ five doubles. Braun is batting .471 (16 for 34) in the postseason with two homers and nine RBIs.
The Cardinals needed more heavy duty from their bullpen, too, after Lohse, pitching on 12 days’ rest, failed to make it out of the fifth.
Wolf kept the Cardinals off balance with soft tosses and retired 13 of his last 15 hitters in his fourth career postseason start. It was a huge improvement from Game 4 of the NL division series at Arizona in which he allowed seven runs in three innings.
Wolf also struggled in his last two regular-season starts, allowing 10 runs in 11 2-3 innings.
For the fourth straight game, the Cardinals had to lean heavily on their relievers. Lohse sailed through three innings and then allowed three doubles and three runs to his last eight hitters.
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 from getting hit by a pitch in Game 3. Craig’s first career postseason homer made it 2-0 in the third.
The Brewers tied it in the fourth with their first runs since the third inning of Game 3 on doubles by Prince Fielder and Jerry Hairston Jr. and an RBI single by Yuniesky Betancourt.
Lohse was pulled after Nyjer Morgan doubled to start the fifth and advanced on a groundout, the middle of the order coming up. Braun’s single off Mitchell Boggs put the Brewers in front, although Theriot’s sprawling stop at second transformed Fielder’s smash into an inning-ending double play.
Rickie Weeks singled and Hairston doubled again to open the sixth, and the Brewers soon had a two-run cushion. George Kottaras hit a grounder against a drawn-in infield off Arthur Rhodes, and Theriot bobbled the ball on a short hop for an error.
The Cardinals’ streak of scoring in the first inning ended at five games when they went down in order against Wolf, but they hurt the left-hander with opposite-field power the next two innings.
Wolf fell behind in the count to six of his first 14 hitters and the Cardinals were 4 for 5 with two homers, a double, a single and a walk.
Notes: Injured Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright caught the ceremonial first ball for the second straight game, this time from former Cardinals CF Jim Edmonds, accompanied by a young son who also made a throw. … Plate umpire Mike Everitt got stung in the upper right arm area by a foul ball off the bat of Rafael Furcal but stayed in the game. … Mark Kotsay started in RF in place of Corey Hart, 2 for 17 against Lohse. … The longest of Wolf’s three previous preseason starts was 5 1-3 innings with the Dodgers on Oct. 19, 2009, at Philadelphia. … An Anheuser-Busch wagon pulled by Clydesdales and loaded with baseballs made a circuit around the warning track during the pregame ceremonies.