ST. LOUIS -- For the second straight day, the Cardinals erased a one-run deficit in the eighth inning. This time, the Brewers had an answer.
Ryan Braun's 429-foot home run off Cardinals reliever Kevin Siegrist in the ninth lifted Milwaukee to a 2-1 win on a sunny Sunday at Busch Stadium. The loss dropped St. Louis back into third place in the National League Wild Card standings, one-half game behind the Mets for the second spot in what is shaping into a rollercoaster ride to the finish.
"We know how good this [Cardinals] team is, this year and every year," Braun said. "We saw it last night, they always find a way to put together good at-bats. They're so good fundamentally. ... In order for us to beat good teams right now, we have to play almost perfect baseball."
Pitching "beautifully" and "masterfully" over 7 1/3 innings, to use manager Craig Counsell's adverbs, Brewers starter Zach Davies made Chris Carter's first-inning sacrifice fly hold up into the eighth, when Matt Carpenter put Davies on the ropes with a leadoff double and advanced on Kolten Wong's nine-pitch groundout. Stephen Piscotty then hit Milwaukee closer Tyler Thornburg's first pitch for a tying sacrifice fly.
After Braun's homer reclaimed a lead, Thornburg recovered to strike out the side in the ninth to seal the victory, Milwaukee's eighth in its last 11 games. Those wins have all come against the Cubs, Cardinals and Pirates.
"[Davies] kept us off-balance the entire day," Wong said. "Couldn't figure him out, couldn't see spin. You tip your hat to a guy who pitched his butt off today like he did. We did everything we could, scrapped a run across, just unfortunately wasn't enough today."
Luke Weaver gave the Cardinals six innings and allowed just one run in his third career quality start in six appearances. He has allowed three runs or fewer in each of his starts since he was called up in the middle of August.
"[Weaver] makes good pitches and doesn't get too rattled," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "I thought he did a better job today early on. ... He's getting better every time he goes out."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Siegrist soured: Braun's home run halted Siegrist's scoreless-appearance streak at five games. He only allowed one hit over five innings during the streak, and the home run was the first he had given up since Aug. 14.
"One pitch was the difference," Matheny said. "A couple things could have happened different early, but those close games where you feel like you've got a real shot, those are always difficult to swallow this time of year or any time."
On the board: Carter had to work hard for the Brewers' first run against Weaver. Scooter Gennett and Braun hit successive one-out singles in the first, putting runners at the corners for an 11-pitch battle between Carter and Weaver. Carter fouled off five pitches in the at-bat, all with two strikes, before lifting a fastball to center field for a sacrifice fly.
"Chris' at-bat in the first inning might go kind of unnoticed, but he really fought [in] that at-bat and got a ball in the outfield," Counsell said. "That was a big battle. The dugout was fired up for him."
Extra, extra: Carpenter hit a leadoff double in the first and added another two-base hit in the eighth inning when he eventually came around to score to move his total to 33 doubles for the season. His 58 extra-base hits lead the Cardinals, but the team hasn't homered in their past two games, coming off a streak of 25 games in a row with a home run.
"It comes down to: We've got to find a way to score more runs," Matheny said. "To be honest, we squared up two balls to right-center that almost all this season have been gone, the ball Randal [Grichuk] hit and the ball Carp hit. The wind shifted for some reason today, and the ball wasn't jumping at all."
Shutting the door: Blown saves don't get much more unfair than the one hung on Thornburg, who retired all five batters he faced including a 12-pitch, three-strikeout ninth inning. With a one-run lead, Thornburg whiffed Grichuk, Brandon Moss and Jedd Gyorko, who have combined for 73 home runs this season.
"That was kind of a 'wow' inning for Tyler," Counsell said. "That was a dominant inning."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Baseball's best starting rotation over the past three weeks does not belong to the Cubs, the Nationals or any of the other postseason contenders. It belongs to the Brewers, who, over the team's past 20 games, have a Major League-best 2.83 ERA. Davies is a big part of that, making four quality starts in that span, including three straight straight starts in which he's pitched at least into the seventh.
"It's where everybody wants to compete and try and do better than the last guy," said Davies, who smiled and added, "Not so much where you're ruining friendships. But it's fun to try to do better than the last guy."
WHAT'S NEXT Brewers: The Brewers open a three-game series in Cincinnati on Monday at 6:10 p.m. CT. Wily Peralta starts the opener, hoping to continue a stretch in which he's posted a 3.35 ERA in six starts since returning from a demotion to Triple-A. He has a 3.00 ERA in 12 career starts against the Reds, including a win last month in Milwaukee.
Cardinals: The first-place Cubs come to town to start a three game set with the Cardinals on Monday night at Busch Stadium, with first pitch scheduled for 7:15 p.m. CT. Mike Leake will take the mound for St. Louis. He owns a 4.15 ERA in two starts against the Cubs this season.