ST. LOUIS -- It had the potential to be a statement series, one that could have put the Cardinals on the precipice of an October return. Instead, it left them dangling perilously close to missing the postseason for a third consecutive year.A team that has stumbled all month may have
ST. LOUIS -- It had the potential to be a statement series, one that could have put the Cardinals on the precipice of an October return. Instead, it left them dangling perilously close to missing the postseason for a third consecutive year.
A team that has stumbled all month may have endured its most costly misstep on Wednesday, as Adolis Garcia, moments after entering as an eighth-inning pinch-runner, lost his footing between third and home. His fall gave Brewers catcher Erik Kratz time to recover for the out, and, an inning later, the Cardinals dropped the 2-1 ballgame to cap a three-game sweep.
The loss allowed both of the teams the Cards were chasing in the NL Central -- the Brewers and Cubs -- to clinch spots in the playoffs. The Brewers celebrated on the Busch Stadium mound before uncorking their champagne celebration inside the visitors' clubhouse. Down the hall, the Cardinals stared at the uphill climb ahead.
"Kind of tough to watch," shortstop Paul DeJong said. "I stood out there and watched them because they deserved it, they earned it. It's something that I want. It's something that I've done in the Minor Leagues. I really want to be out there doing it with us, but we're going to have to keep pushing and try to pull something out."
The Cardinals felt comfortable with their 1 1/2-game Wild Card cushion when the series opened on Monday. But as they were swept for the first time under Mike Shildt, the Rockies have won three in a row against the Phillies.
The Dodgers, who now trail the Rockies in the NL West, hold a one-game advantage over the Cardinals, who could find themselves facing elimination as soon as Saturday.
Either way, the Cards are left to scoreboard watch, and now must reel off multiple wins at Wrigley Field to give themselves a chance at extending the season beyond Sunday. The Cubs will enter the series still fighting for a division crown.
"In my mind, we've got to win all three games, that's all there is to it," said Adam Wainwright, who will start the series opener. "We had ourselves in a good spot, and we just got beat three games by a good team over there and did not make the pitches we needed to, make the plays we needed to, didn't hit the way we needed to, and that's a good way lose a baseball game, lose a series and get swept against a good team. You've got to capitalize, and we had our chances, certainly."
None more glaring on Wednesday than their last gasp, two-out rally in the eighth. A nine-pitch walk by Matt Carpenter extended the inning and prompted Shildt to insert Garcia, a September callup, as a pinch-runner.
Garcia took off as Jose Martinez beat out an infield single and kept running after the throw from Brewers third baseman Mike Moustakas got away. Third-base coach Jose Oquendo waved him home.
But as Garcia rounded third, his feet tangled. He couldn't regain his balance and fell to the ground.
"Kid is giving everything he's got," said Shildt, who consoled Garcia with a pat on the back afterward. "Look, [the] guy [made] a physical error giving everything he's got. Feet go out from under him. Those things happen. All you can do is support him. He's our teammate."
By the time Garcia recovered, Kratz had the ball and tagged him out.
"It's extreme panic. Extreme panic," Kratz said. "It's not the panic that you ever want, but I knew I had the ball and I knew the guys were there if I had to throw it to third. You don't ever think he's going to fall. But we got the out."
Added Brewers manager Craig Counsell: "You need some breaks. If you're going to win the World Series, you need to catch a break, man. We'll take some breaks along the way, for sure."
Garcia, still shaken afterward, declined comment through a Cardinals spokesperson.
"I know he feels horrible, but it's baseball," Wainwright said. "When you look at Adolis there, that's the one that everybody is going to point to, but we got into a situation where we're facing two of the best relievers in the game and we had one run and maybe one or two hits, so the blame can certainly not be all put on Adolis."
Martinez's hit was just the second of the night for the Cardinals, who mustered one off Jhoulys Chacin in his five-inning start. That came in the fourth to set Jedd Gyorko up for a bases-loaded sacrifice fly.
Milwaukee's offense didn't show near the same potency it had while banging out a dozen runs one night earlier. But Travis Shaw twice drove in Christian Yelich, first with a single off starter John Gant and then with another against reliever Dakota Hudson.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
After watching Yelich drive in eight runs in the first two games of the series, the Cards had no intention of letting the NL MVP Award frontrunner beat them again on Wednesday. That's one reason why he drew five walks. But the Cards weren't trying to put Yelich on in the fifth when, with one out, Shildt called on lefty Chasen Shreve to relieve Gant.
Nevertheless, Shreve, who has not thrived as a lefty neutralizer since the Cards acquired him at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, walked Yelich on five pitches. Yelich advanced on a squibbler in front of the plate and scored the winning run on a bloop hit that had an exit velocity of 61.5 mph, according to Statcast™.
"I think we're trying to find guys who can be more consistent getting those lefties out," Shildt said. "We weren't able to execute tonight."
With an announced crowd of 40,644 on Wednesday, the Cardinals drew more than 3.4 million fans for the ninth time in franchise history. The team sold out 27 of its games at Busch Stadium and finished with a per game average of 42,020. The Cardinals rank first in the Majors in terms of percent of stadium capacity sold this year at 95.3 percent.
HE SAID IT
"I understand it. I don't like it. And by the way, our tradition is to tip the cap to the fans tonight, and it's my oversight. Quite honestly, just my [mind] was somewhere else. No disrespect to our wonderful fanbase. Look, those guys handled it. They went out there and celebrated, but they were class. They deserve to. That's a nice accomplishment. No issue with it. We need to do better to prevent it." -- Shildt, on watching the Brewers' celebration
The Cardinals will travel to Wrigley Field for their final regular-season series, which will open with a 1:20 p.m. CT game on Friday. In what could be his final appearance for the Cardinals, Wainwright will get the start against Chicago's Kyle Hendricks. Wainwright, who has made 284 career starts as a Cardinal, will be a free agent after the season.
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.