With Adam Wainwright and Mike Fiers locked in a pitcher’s duel, whichever team blinked first Wednesday night was likely going to fall victim to a tough defeat.
Unfortunately for the Milwaukee Brewers, the critical mistake — or maybe it was just a bad break â was made by them.
Carlos Gomez had the Busch Stadium turf give out from under him while trying to field a single from Matt Adams in the seventh inning. Ruled an error, the misplay allowed Matt Holliday to score from first base and Adams to reach scoring position.
That was all Wainwright would need, as the right-hander tossed a seven-hit shutout in the Cardinals’ 2-0 victory over the Brewers.
The loss dropped Milwaukee to 2 1/2 games back of red-hot Pittsburgh for the second wild card, as the Pirates won for the eighth time in 10 games Wednesday. With just 10 games remaining, the Brewers can ill afford too many more losses.
"I just slipped," Gomez said. "Before I could even catch the ball, I was on the ground. Tough game. Tough loss. Fiers threw unbelievable today. Just one error right there, and it changed the game. There’s nothing we can do. If I catch the ball, it’s men on third and first, and that (Peralta) ground ball, maybe we have the infield in.
"But there’s nothing I can do. Probably if I don’t slip, I catch the ball fine. It’s not like I dropped the ball. Before I get there, I’m on the ground."
Fiers quickly erased any concern as to if he would bounce back from hitting Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton in the face, as he was sharp from the start Wednesday night.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke admitted to not knowing how Fiers would fare in his first start since the incident, but he saw right away that it would be a non-issue.
"It was nice to see him come out and be aggressive," Roenicke said. "He kept the ball away mostly at the beginning, and then he started pitching like he usually does."
Roenicke said the game plan was to pitch away from the Cardinals hitters early on to feel out where Fiers was. Once it was clear the right-hander was fine, the plan changed.
"It was no different than any other start," Fiers said. "You’ve got to put the past behind you and that’s what I was trying to do â just go out there and pitch like I normally do.
"Obviously everyone knows what happened, but we’ve got games in front of us, important games, and this was an important one. I just wanted to give my team a chance to win, throw up as many zeros as I could, but baseball’s baseball and sometimes you get beat by a guy that threw better."
Fiers faced the minimum and took a no-hitter through 5 2/3 innings before Wainwright singled back up the middle with two outs in the sixth.
"Hey, he battled," Fiers said of Wainwright’s at-bat. "He doesn’t take at-bats off. Good swing, hit a 1-2 pitch and hit it up the middle. Can’t do anything about it."
The Brewers had a couple of chances early to break through against Wainwright, none better than when they loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth. Jean Segura proceeded to smoke a line drive, but it was snagged by center fielder Peter Bourjos for the final out.
"Right at him," Roenicke said. "You are not going to string together a lot of them, so when you have the chance, you need those balls to fall in for you."
Fiers issued a one-out walk to Holliday in the seventh, giving Adams a chance to get the Cardinals on the board. Adams beat the shift, placing a groundball just out of the reach of second baseman Scooter Gennett.
Holliday didn’t hesitate to go first to third on the hit, making it possible for him to try to score when Gomez fell. Gomez threw to Jean Segura, who almost nabbed Holliday at the plate.
A couple of inches over and Gennett likely starts an inning-ending double play, but instead the Brewers were trailing.
"(Gomez) gives 100 percent every time and he’s charging after that ball, wants to get it in as quick as possible and he slipped," Fiers said. "I mean, what are you going to do? It just happened. He’s not trying to slip. I’m sure he wasn’t too happy about it. But you’ve got to focus on the next pitch." Jhonny Peralta followed with a base hit to score Adams, giving Wainwright a 2-0 advantage.
Gennett led off the eighth with Milwaukee’s seventh hit of the game, but he was quickly erased when Jonathan Lucroy hit into a double play. Wainwright cruised through the ninth inning for his third shutout of the season and his seventh shutout since the beginning of 2012, the most in baseball during that time period.
Wainwright has gone the distance against the Brewers twice in the last 11 days, as he limited Milwaukee to just one run in a 9-1 victory at Miller Park on Sept. 7.
"He’s got great command," Roenicke said. "He knows we swing, and he can come out and throw a lot of strikes and hit the corners and get us to swing just off the plate.
"The guy, he’s one of the best. That’s what he’s supposed to do against a team that swings. With great command, he goes through the lineup with not very many pitches."