A soggy Friday evening made way to a grueling Saturday morning before Ryan Braun finally sent the Brewers and Cardinals home. His 13th-inning home run just before bar time gave Milwaukee a 5-4 win at Busch Stadium, and moved the improbably-surging Brewers another step nearer the National League's second Wild Card berth.
This is not how September was scripted for a team that traded away Zack Greinke in July. With 14 wins in their last 18 games, the Brewers find themselves just six games behind the Cardinals in the race for the NL's final postseason slot, with the Dodgers and Pirates in the way.
That is notable. Unlike last year's Cardinals, who faced the same deficit on Sept. 7, but had only to catch the Braves for the NL Wild Card, the Brewers need help. But the fact they can even look at the standings represents progress; at the start of their hot stretch on Aug. 20, the Brewers were 12 1/2 games out.
So, a few extra hours at the ballpark seemed a small price to pay.
"Not every loss is the same, and not every win is the same, that's for sure," Braun said. "This was a win that feels more meaningful to us as a team. It truly tests your resiliency and perseverance on a day like this."
Friday's game was delayed by two hours and 20 minutes at the start by rain, and was extended when Brewers reliever Jim Henderson let a 4-2 lead slip away in the eighth inning on Yadier Molina's two-strike, two-out, two-run home run. It was the Brewers' 27th blown save, worst in the Majors.
Better relief results would follow. Manny Parra and Jose Veras each worked a 1-2-3 inning. Kameron Loe escaped a bases-loaded situation in an 11th inning. Brandon Kintzler worked around two walks in the 12th with a double play, and was rewarded with his second career win.
Braun hit his tie-breaking home run in the top of the 13th inning against Cardinals reliever Lance Lynn, and when Brewers closer John Axford finished his 26th save, it was 2:05 a.m. CT.
"I can't remember ever playing baseball past two o'clock in the morning," Braun said. "Fortunately, we came out on the winning side, because after a long day like that, it makes it worthwhile and far more enjoyable."
Lynn, Braun's teammate on the NL All-Star team, had a different experience.
"It was just a bad breaking ball to the MVP of last year," Lynn said. "He did what he was supposed to do with it. I made a bad pitch and he made me pay for it. You can't make the mistake to that guy because he's a guy whose going to hurt you. I made the wrong pitch to the wrong guy at the wrong time."
To boot, Braun's NL-leading 38th home run set a new career high and gave him 100 RBIs. He is the first player in Brewers history to reach 100 RBIs in five different seasons.
Lost in the late-night drama was another quality start for Yovani Gallardo, who limited the damage to two runs on six hits in six innings against a team that had tormented him in the past to the tune of a 7.05 ERA in 13 starts. It was Gallardo's 23rd quality start, best in the Majors.
The Cardinals had their chances. They stranded at least one runner in scoring position in the third, fifth, seventh, 11th and 12th innings. They were 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 men in all.
"It's extremely frustrating," manager Mike Matheny said. "We had our chances and just couldn't come through. More than anything, that's what sticks out -- the opportunities we had with men in scoring position. We just couldn't come through. That was the game."
Thankfully, the teams were scheduled to play a night game on Saturday. That means players should be well-rested to continue a series that could determine once and for all whether these Brewers are for real.