ST. LOUIS -- After some ragged play against the Royals to open this homestand, the Cardinals found a remedy by knocking around a Brewers team that remains dominated by its National League Central foe. Milwaukee mustered a four-run ninth to pull within one but stranded the tying run in scoring position as the Cardinals held on for a 9-8 victory and the series sweep on Sunday at Busch Stadium.
With the win, the Cardinals improved to 7-2 over Milwaukee this season. In those nine games, the Cardinals have outscored the Brewers, 57-22. Milwaukee is 0-12-1 in its last 13 series against the three-time defending division champs.
"I think guys feel like they played two today," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "But coming out with a win, it doesn't matter. There were just some things that were really well done in tough circumstances, and the guys didn't give into the circumstances. They just kept playing the game."
The two clubs played in soggy conditions after waiting out a one-hour, 20-minute rain delay. The pace of game sloshed along, too, as Chase Anderson and Michael Wacha labored through short starts. Anderson was chased with one out in the fifth. He served up a solo homer to Aledmys Diaz in the first and then watched two of his five walks turn into runs.
"He had only given up two runs, but it was five walks and a bunch of pretty well-hit balls," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "He wasn't on."
Wacha needed 93 pitches to navigate five innings, but he earned his third straight win when his offense broke a tie with a two-run fifth. An inning later, the Cardinals ran their lead to six when Stephen Piscotty turned on Blaine Boyer's full-count slider and drove it into the left-field seats for his second career grand slam.
"Just try not to do too much," Piscotty said of his approach. "In that situation, I got behind early and fought my way back to 3-2 where I knew he was going to throw me a strike. I was able to be a little more aggressive there."
Sunday's game finished six hours and four minutes after its scheduled 1:15 pm CT first pitch. In addition to the pregame delay, play was halted 14 minutes in the middle of the sixth for the grounds crew to spread dirt on a wet infield and another 55 minutes in the top of the seventh. Cards reliever Matt Bowman returned to the bases-loaded, no-out mess he inherited from Trevor Rosenthal just before that last delay and wiggled out of it with one run allowed.
"It was a little difficult, but I kept myself ready," Bowman said. "It kind of felt like a bullpen where you get hot, then sit down and kind of wait until later on. I just made sure I was mentally checked in and physically loose."
The Cardinals needed that cushion, too, as recently recalled Sam Tuivailala couldn't retire any of the three batters he faced in the ninth. That created a save situation for Seung Hwan Oh, who, after allowing four runs to score, struck out Martin Maldonado to strand a pair of runners.
"You obviously want to continue to compete, continue to battle," Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun said. "It's not something that we're extremely proud of because we came up short. It would have been an amazing win if we came all the way back."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Stephen's slam: No one has been better batting with the bases loaded this season than Piscotty, who improved to 5-for-9 with Sunday's grand slam. He has hit both of the Cardinals' grand slams this season and has driven in 13 in such spots. His 13 bases-loaded RBIs are tied with Pittsburgh's Gregory Polanco for most among National League hitters. Per Statcast™, Piscotty's sixth-inning blast came off his bat at 103 mph and traveled a projected 425 feet from home plate.
"It's tough to put into words, but it's a special thing, especially when you round first base and you hear the crowd start to roar and the fireworks go off," Piscotty said. "It's a fun trip around the bases."
Cards push ahead: The Brewers have not played terribly while losing 13 of their last 18 games, but the little things have hurt. Case in point: With the teams tied at 2 in the fifth and a Cardinals runner aboard after Anderson issued his fifth walk, Brandon Moss greeted Brewers reliever Jacob Barnes with a double to the right-field corner. Ramon Flores' high throw back to the infield ticked off the glove of leaping cut-off man Scooter Gennett, allowing Piscotty to score the go-ahead run without a play at the plate as Moss hustled to third base. He promptly scored an insurance run on Jhonny Peralta's sacrifice fly.
"We haven't played well," Counsell said. "We certainly haven't done enough right in all phases of the game to beat them. We're just not doing enough against these guys." More >
Skid-snapper: The Brewers were 0-for-19 over four games and 4-for-39 over seven games with runners in scoring position before Flores grounded a go-ahead, two-run double over first base in the fourth for a 2-1 lead. It followed Aaron Hill's single and Kirk Nieuwenhuis' double, which was the Brewers' first extra-base hit since Chris Carter's solo home run in the second inning on Friday, snapping a streak of 14 straight singles over parts of 21 frames. The Brewers' rally snapped a stretch of 19 consecutive scoreless innings for Cardinals pitchers.
Timely twin killing: The Brewers looked poised to break open the game as Wacha searched for his command in the fifth. But the Cardinals' righty induced a bases-loaded, inning-ending double play off the bat of Hill to escape the mess. Hill, who had singled in each of his first two at-bats, worked the count to 3-1 before hitting a sharp grounder to Diaz, who started the 6-4-3 double play to keep the game tied at 2. Cardinals pitchers induced seven double plays in the series.
"Long pitch counts, and he had stress outs there quite a few innings, but he was able to get through five, which was nice," Matheny said of Wacha. "It was one of those days you just try to grind through and have the bullpen help you out."
"I'm sure we're not the only team that struggles against the Cardinals, I think they have a lot of success against most teams. They're just a good team. We're just going to continue to compete and hope that it turns around." -- Braun
"It was really tough. When they stopped the game for the first time, I thought they were going to end the game because it was really wet. But they continued, and it ended up being a crazy game after that." -- Peralta, on Sunday's conditions
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Brewers leadoff man and All-Star Game candidate Jonathan Villar struck out four times in a game for only the second time in his career -- and the second time in a week. He also earned a so-called golden sombrero on Tuesday against the Dodgers.
With Sunday's win, the Cardinals pulled to within eight games of the division-leading Cubs. It's still a daunting deficit, but it's also the smallest that deficit has been since May 25. The last time the Cardinals faced a division deficit of at least eight games at the halfway point of their season was 2007.
After the game, the Brewers selected the contract of Will Middlebrooks from Triple-A Colorado Springs and optioned outfielder Keon Broxton as the corresponding move. Pitcher Chris Capuano was moved to the 60-day disabled list. More >
WHAT'S NEXT Brewers: It's rise and shine on Monday for the Brewers, who will play the Nationals beginning at 10:05 a.m. CT on Independence Day in Washington D.C. Junior Guerra makes his first career start against the Nats opposite Max Scherzer, whom the Brewers beat on June 24 at Miller Park.
Cardinals: The Cardinals will welcome the Pirates to Busch Stadium for a four-game series beginning at 1:15 p.m. CT on Monday. The Pirates hold a 5-4 edge in the season series. Right-hander Carlos Martinez will start for St. Louis as he tries to extend his string of quality starts to seven straight.