Matt Holliday hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning to give the Cardinals a 4-3 win over the Brewers at Miller Park on Tuesday night, finally delivering a run-scoring hit with a runner on base. Albert Pujols had drawn a walk in front of Holliday, who jumped on a 2-1 pitch from closer Trevor Hoffman and drilled it to straightaway center.
Before Holliday's hit, the story had been one of futility for the Redbirds on offense. They went 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11 men on base over the first eight innings. They came close many times, but the hit was never there.
"We had 12 opportunities," manager Tony La Russa said. "We kept generating and generating and generating. It's like half-full [vs.] half-empty. I think that's half-full. I was pleased that we were scuffling to get something going."
The Cardinals' first two runs came on a bases-loaded groundout and a solo homer. They squandered a leadoff double in the second inning, a pair of one-out walks in the third and a bases-loaded, one-out shot in the eighth. Even in the sixth, when they pushed across a run, they could have had much more. They loaded the bases with none out and only managed to get on the board via Yadier Molina's double-play grounder.
That was despite the fact that Brewers starter Manny Parra was removed after one inning due to neck spasms. Milwaukee used eight pitchers in the game, tying a franchise record. And of all the hurlers that Milwaukee manager Ken Macha called on, the only one the Cardinals really made a dent against was the likely Hall of Famer, Hoffman.
Holliday got all of a 2-1 slider, drilling it 413 feet to straightaway center for the game-winner.
"I'm just trying to get to him before he gets to his changeup," Holliday said. "His changeup is obviously the pitch that has allowed him to be one of the greatest closers of all time. You try to get a fastball or a breaking ball and hope that it's up."
Former rivals in the National League West now together in the NL Central, Holliday and Hoffman had done battle before -- with Hoffman usually getting the better of it. Holliday had been 2-for-13 against the former Padre coming into the game. But it only took one mistake in a hitter's count to turn the tables.
"When you fall behind guys like that, they're going to get more comfortable in the at-bat," Hoffman said. "[Holliday] got some good backspin on it and he's a strong guy when he gets extended. He did what he's supposed to do with it."
St. Louis starter John Smoltz pitched well overall, but a brief sequence in the first and second innings put a dent in his final line. Smoltz allowed a double to Ryan Braun and a Prince Fielder homer in the first, then three straight singles to open the second, to fall behind, 3-0. After that, he was almost untouchable. Smoltz retired 12 of the last 13 batters he faced, including the last eight in a row, before giving way to a pinch-hitter in the sixth. He struck out seven and didn't walk a batter.
"You try to see certain things and make adjustments, like I've tried to do all year," Smoltz said. "At this point, I'm able to make better adjustments than I was earlier in the year."
The Cardinals' bullpen kept up the good work that Smoltz did over the last four innings. Kyle Lohse, making his first relief appearance since the 2007 playoffs, tossed a perfect sixth. Brad Thompson and Dennys Reyes tag-teamed an uneventful seventh and rookie Blake Hawksworth pitched a shutout eighth for the win before Kyle McClellan closed it out for his third save.
The Cardinals maintained their 11 1/2-game lead over the Cubs in the NL Central and reduced their magic number to 13.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.