ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals sent nine batters to the plate and scored five first-inning runs against Brewers starter Jimmy Nelson on the way to a 7-4 series-clinching win on Wednesday at Busch Stadium.
Nelson didn't record an out until his 23rd pitch, when Yadier Molina lifted the first of two St. Louis sacrifice flies in the inning. Four of the five Cardinals runs were earned, the other unearned as a result of a fielding error charged to Brewers third baseman Hector Gomez on on what Brewers manager Craig Counsell said should have been a double-play bouncer.
"We have to make plays," Counsell said. "We are giving outs and taking outs away from ourselves running the bases later in the game. You can't give the other team more outs and take away outs from yourself. It is tough to win like that."
While Nelson fell to 2-6 this season after allowing seven runs (six earned) in five innings, Cardinals starter John Lackey improved to 3-0 during daytime starts despite allowing 10 Brewers hits. Lackey limited the damage to three runs -- including a Gerardo Parra solo homer -- over seven innings, the third Cards starter in as many games to pitch at least that deep into the game. More >
The Brewers brought the tying run to the plate against Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal with one out in the ninth inning, but Jonathan Lucroy grounded into a game-ending double play.
"That's part of the job as a closer," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Rosenthal, who induced a game-ending double play on Tuesday night as well. "You figure out how to get it done. Last night couldn't have been at a better time. Same thing with tonight. That was starting to get a little scary."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Early onslaught: St. Louis put an emphatic end to an offensive slump by batting through its order in the first before Nelson struck out Lackey to stop the damage at five runs, which matched its run total from the previous 33 innings. The inning included four hits, an error and two sac flies.
"That's what you talk about hopefully happening after you get a couple of days without any kind of build up with our offense at all," Matheny said. "You look at our first eight batters we had, every one of them got a hit or did something situational to get a run in, and that's a great way to start your day, and it gave John some room to work." More >
Can't stop the bleeding: Big innings have burned Brewers pitchers all season, and Nelson was the latest victim. Besides the Cardinals' big first inning, four of the first five batters in the fourth frame reached safely against Nelson. The last was Matt Carpenter, whose two-run single put another crooked number on the scoreboard and extended the St. Louis lead to 7-1. But it was the long first inning that really bugged Nelson.
"I've been giving up too many first-inning runs this entire season," said Nelson, who has surrendered 11 earned runs and 14 hits in his 11 first innings this season. "It's something I'm going to have to figure out what it is between starts, whether it's mentality or routine, whatever it is. It's just something I need to improve on."
Take two: After becoming the first catcher in baseball history to lead the Major Leagues in doubles last season, Lucroy hit his first of 2015 on Wednesday. An early-season slump, followed by a six-week stint on the disabled list, delayed Lucroy's first double of the season until he connected against Lackey in the sixth inning and sent a line drive off the left-center-field wall. Lucroy promptly scored on Gomez's own two-bagger.
Gomez launched headfirst into the stands along the third-base side after chasing a foul pop off Jason Heyward's bat in the sixth inning. Brewers medical personnel rushed to Gomez's side, hopping the fence and tending to him in the aisle between seating sections. Eventually, Gomez stood and walked under his own power to the dugout for further evaluation. He was examined by a physician and deemed not to have sustained a concussion.
"I saw the wall too late," Gomez said. "But I feel good. I'm ready to go." More >
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Lackey improved to 85-10 as a starter in games when he receives six or more runs of support.
WHAT'S NEXT Brewers:Kyle Lohse will try again to get going when he starts Friday's Interleague series opener at Target Field against one of his former teams, the Twins, at 7:10 p.m. CT. Lohse has surrendered 12 earned runs over his last two starts to boost his ERA to 6.50.
Cardinals: St. Louis heads west to open a four-game series with the Dodgers on Thursday at 9:10 p.m. CT. Michael Wacha will take the mound for the Cardinals and try for revenge against the team that handed him his first loss of the season on Saturday in St. Louis.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. David Cobb is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.