ST. LOUIS -- Their bullpen day didn’t begin as planned, but the Brewers scrambled their way to a win.
Andrew McCutchen hit a tie-breaking, two-run home run in the fifth inning, and a parade of Milwaukee relievers fell in line after some early stumbles in a gritty, 8-4 win at Busch Stadium on Tuesday. With three starting pitchers on the injured list and only 20 games to go, it’s a blueprint the Brewers may need to follow again if they are to rally for a fifth consecutive postseason appearance.
“We were talking before the game, and we couldn’t remember the last bullpen game,” said Brewers lefty Brent Suter after securing the final three outs. “Maybe my start last year in Miami in early May? It had been a while, but to beat a really good team at their place with a bullpen game, it gives us a lot of confidence, no doubt.”
Said McCutchen: “They kept us in the ballgame, kept us going, kept us grabbing at those bats and scoring a couple more runs.”
It was an all-hands-on-deck kind of night from the start, and even more so after reliever Matt Bush, pitching as an opener after Freddy Peralta and Eric Lauer joined Aaron Ashby on the IL late last week, exited Tuesday’s game with a groin injury after only one out and saw his fellow relievers blow multi-run leads in each of the first two innings. Brewers hitters, however, kept swinging the bats, scoring twice in the first inning, twice in the second and twice in the fifth on McCutchen’s towering homer for a 6-4 lead, before Brad Boxberger delivered the sort of shutdown inning his team was looking for.
Boxberger’s outing came amid a series of good innings for Brewers relievers, who rebounded from the early stumbles of Bush, Peter Strzelecki and Luis Perdomo to hold St. Louis hitless over the final six innings and scoreless over the final seven. That started with Perdomo, who gave up a 4-2 lead in the second inning but then rebounded to hold the Cardinals scoreless through the end of the fourth, before McCutchen’s 17th home run reclaimed the lead.
Boxberger, Hoby Milner, Justin Topa, Taylor Rogers and Suter carried it home and ensured the Brewers wouldn’t have to pitch closer Devin Williams, who will be fresh behind ace Corbin Burnes if needed on Wednesday night.
“It was a long game, a lot of focus, a lot of good work by the guys down there,” Suter said. “Luis Perdomo, I have to give him a special shoutout. Three innings when we needed it badly. Incredible work by him, and then we kind of fed off that.”
“That was enormous,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “It put the game back in order.”
Counsell described Bush as being day to day after he exited 15 pitches into the bottom of the first inning. The Brewers acquired the right-hander from the Rangers at the Trade Deadline and had been using him in mostly high-leverage situations alongside Boxberger, Rogers and Williams before asking for a start on Tuesday night.
Thankfully, the rest of the Brewers’ relief corps was ready when Bush walked off the mound with the team’s head athletic trainer.
“Normally on the road, we go out to the bullpen after we hit. We’re cheering in the top of the first inning, and then we go out when the team takes the field,” Suter said. “Today, we went out probably 15 minutes before the game started. We wanted to be there with Bushy and get our stuff started in case something went down. And sure enough, something went down right in the first inning there.”
The Brewers’ early runs came at the expense of Jordan Montgomery, who lost for the first time in eight starts as a Cardinal after beginning the day with a 1.45 ERA since coming to St. Louis from the Yankees in a trade. On Tuesday, he was charged with a season-high six runs (though only four were earned) on seven hits in five innings.
“We did a really good job of staying on him every inning, not really letting him give up a couple of runs and then settle in,” McCutchen said. “We did a good job of fighting back every inning. That put us in a good position for the rest of the game.”
At the start of a particularly challenging stretch of eight games in nine days against the postseason-bound Cardinals, Yankees and Mets, the Brewers showed they can win behind Johnny Wholestaff.
“It may not always be pretty,” McCutchen said, “but you’ve got to do it. We know what needs to be done.”