MILWAUKEE -- Matt Garza foiled the Cardinals' quest to pad their Wild Card position with a series sweep by coming up with the deepest start of his season on Wednesday. With one Kirk Nieuwenhuis swing offering all the necessary offense, the Brewers turned Garza's strong start at Miller Park into a 3-1 victory that halted a season-worst, six-game losing streak.
The loss sent the Cardinals out of town trailing the Giants by two games for the National League's top Wild Card spot. St. Louis does hold a 1 1/2-game advantage over the Mets for the second Wild Card berth. The Cardinals were denied what would have been the club's first road sweep since June 20-22.
After dropping the first two games of the series by one run, the Brewers took advantage of a brief third-inning blip by Cardinals rookie starter Luke Weaver to steal their fourth win in 15 games against the Cardinals this season. Weaver opened the fourth start of his career by retiring eight straight, but lost Garza to a two-out walk after getting ahead, 1-2, in the count. Over the next four pitches, he served up a double and three-run blast, the latter marking Nieuwenhuis' 13th home run of the season.
"That at-bat to Garza is kind of what set if off," Weaver said. "Then that pitch to Nieuwenhuis. ... I left it middle-middle there. It came out of the hand and didn't have that conviction, that bite on it. It stayed up a little bit. That's a big swing."
Garza held that lead as he limited the Cardinals to three hits while pitching into the eighth inning for the first time this year. Yadier Molina tagged him for a solo homer, but the Cardinals finished 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.
"I've just been trying to get back to normal, where I'm comfortable being," Garza said. "I've said it time and time again: it's just progression. I finally feel back to where I should be. I'm not fighting my body anymore, I'm not fighting my pitches. I'm actually getting to be able to play pain-free, and it's exciting for me."
Garza had some help from Carlos Torres to navigate through a troublesome eighth. Garza was pulled after allowing the first two batters to reach. Torres followed with two outs and, after walking the bases full, garnered a flyout from Jhonny Peralta to end the Cardinals' final threat. The Cardinals finished the series 1-for-20 with runners in scoring position.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Cardinal sin: With two quick outs in the third, Garza came to the plate with Weaver in prime position to work a 1-2-3 frame. A career .082 hitter, Garza instead flipped the script by drawing a walk to spark the Brewers' lone scoring rally of the game. Jonathan Villar followed with a double to left and Nieuwenhuis brought them all home with his three-run blast.
"I was just trying to take as many pitches as possible," Garza said. "Keep myself from going back out there really quick. He threw a good cutter off and I leaned out there. I was telling myself, 'I'd rather you punch out looking than swinging at something in the dirt.'"
Finishing strong: Weaver worked himself out of a sixth-inning jam to put an exclamation point on a start marred only by what happened in the third. After two hits and a walk loaded the bases with one out, Weaver made a 3-2 pitch to Chris Carter that induced an infield popout. He then closed the frame with his 10th strikeout, a career high.
"It was terrific," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of the way Weaver ended his 94-pitch night. "To get out of the mess he got out of in the sixth, he threw really good pitches when his back was up against the wall and his pitch count was high. He looks very poised in all situations. In my book, that was a very quality outing for the kid."
Wide right: Had Matt Carpenter's drive to right field in the eighth stayed fair, the Cardinals would have jumped in front, 4-3. Instead, the ball hooked just to the right of the foul pole. Carpenter then lined out to second base against Torres, who then painted the corner to strike out the next batter, Jedd Gyorko. Representing the go-ahead run, Brandon Moss drew a walk to load the bases but Torres escaped the jam. Tyler Thornburg came on and pitched a perfect ninth for his sixth save of the season.
"Obviously, Carpenter is a tough customer," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "Nothing fazes Carlos. I wouldn't expect anything to faze him, and he just kept making pitches that inning."
Said Torres: "You just put faith in your teammates and your catcher in front of you and you go from there."
Homer happy: The Cardinals established a franchise record on Wednesday by homering in their 20th consecutive game, surpassing the previous high set in 2006. This time it was Molina who went deep with a solo shot off Garza in the fourth. The homer was Molina's fifth this season and the 40th for the Cardinals since their streak began on Aug. 9. The club has also homered in 21 straight games at Miller Park.
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Weaver became the first Cardinals rookie to strike out 10 batters in a game since Shelby Miller did so on June 12, 2013, against the Mets. He's also now one of three Cardinals pitchers to reach that double-digit strikeout total in one of his first four appearances. He joins the company of Alan Benes (Sept. 30, 1995, vs. Pittsburgh) and Stu Miller (Aug. 26, 1952, vs. Brooklyn) for that distinction.
WHAT'S NEXT Cardinals: Following an off-day on Thursday, the Cardinals will begin the second leg of their three-city trip in Cincinnati. The club expects to have first baseman Matt Adams back from the disabled list for the series opener, which will be started by rookie Alex Reyes. Reyes has allowed one run in his first 14 big league innings. First pitch is scheduled for 6:10 p.m. CT.
Brewers: The Brewers have an off-day on Thursday before kicking off a three-game road trip on Friday in Pittsburgh at 6:05 p.m. CT. The Pirates swept the Crew in a four-game series at Miller Park last weekend. Right-hander Junior Guerra makes his return from the DL, having not pitched since Aug. 3 with right elbow inflammation.