MILWAUKEE -- With two outs in the fourth inning Monday and Brewers starter Brent Suter at the plate, the adept-hitting pitcher sent a 2-2 curve from Cardinals starter Luke Weaver slicing down the first-base line. The fate of Weaver's afternoon spun along with it. Jose Martinez shuffled left and reached
MILWAUKEE -- With two outs in the fourth inning Monday and Brewers starter Brent Suter at the plate, the adept-hitting pitcher sent a 2-2 curve from Cardinals starter Luke Weaver slicing down the first-base line. The fate of Weaver's afternoon spun along with it. Jose Martinez shuffled left and reached down, his angular frame reaching for the ball near the ground -- just a half-second late. Two runs scored by the time the ball was corralled in foul territory, which altered the course of the opener of this pivotal three-game series at Miller Park.
That the Brewers added four runs over the next three frames to cruise on Memorial Day rendered Martinez's non-play a footnote in what turned into a 8-3 Cardinals loss. But at the time, the play allowed a red-hot Brewers team extra rope, stretching the Cardinals' two-run hole into a four-run deficit four innings in.
"I wouldn't say it has to be made, but that's a play I believe our guys can make," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "That ended up hurting."
The Cardinals were still down after answering with three runs a half-inning later off Suter, the winning pitcher, and three Milwaukee relievers held them scoreless over the last four innings as St. Louis missed a chance to move up in the NL Central standings. St. Louis began the day in second place, with a chance to shave the Brewers' division lead to three games. Instead, the loss dropped them to third, behind the Cubs, who beat the Pirates on Monday, at the season's two-month mark.
Ryan Braun's third hit of the day added a run off Mike Mayers in the fifth before Jonathan Villar's three-run homer off Brett Cecil broke it open in the seventh. Weaver allowed four earned runs over four innings.
"I thought another one I dove for [earlier in the game] was more difficult," Martinez said. "[The left-handed-hitting Suter] hit the ball that nobody was waiting for. Most pitchers hit the ball the other way. But I still have to be ready for anything."
Suddenly one of the better hitting-pitchers in baseball, Suter also hit a 433-foot home run off reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber earlier this month. On Monday, his double, which came off the bat at 94.9 mph, capped an eight-pitch battle, as he worked the count even and fouled off three two-strike fastballs before dropping his barrel on an inside curve.
"Got the pitcher up there and tried to make quick work of him, but he had a pretty legendary at-bat," Weaver said. "He kept spoiling, kept spoiling. Got the ground ball I wanted, it just didn't go our way there."
A longtime outfielder, Martinez's bat is what earned him an everyday spot in the Cardinals' lineup and keeps him rooted at the top of it. But his inexperience at first continues to muddy his first extended everyday role in the big leagues, cropping up at inopportune times and in ways that don't always show up in a box score. His six errors lead all MLB first basemen, and Martinez ranks last in defensive runs saved at the position, and next to last in ultimate zone rating.
"I feel like I'm improving," Martinez said. "That's not my natural position, but I have to get better. It's my opportunity to be in the lineup every day."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Munoz delivers at plate and in field: The Cardinals scored two of their three runs courtesy of a Yairo Munoz homer in the fifth, the first of his MLB career. Starting at shortstop for the fifth time in six games in place of Paul DeJong, Munoz also showed off his arm after making a tough play in the hole to rob Jesus Aguilar in the third. Munoz is 9-for-17 (.529) at the plate in those starts.
The Brewers stole three bases against Cecil in the seventh, including a double-steal without a throw. The Cardinals now have allowed 20 stolen bases this season -- with a 100 percent success rate. St. Louis catchers have thrown out zero runners through 51 games, the longest such streak to begin a season in MLB history.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
For the second time in three days, Matt Carpenter took a two-pronged approach to beating the shift. He played small ball, then went long ball. After nearly two months of attempting to bunt against the shift, to no avail, Carpenter laid a beauty down the third-base line -- on a 3-0 pitch -- to collect an easy single in the third.
An inning later, he socked a line drive into the right-field seats. Carpenter did something similar Saturday in Pittsburgh, bunting for a hit an at-bat after doubling off the right-field wall.
HE SAID IT
"We need offense. Offense is the conversation we're always being hammered for. We need to score more. He's been one of the most consistent guys we've had at the plate." -- Matheny, on Martinez
That the Brewers struck first in this potentially pivotal series makes Game 2 even bigger for the Cardinals. St. Louis will start Michael Wacha (5-1, 2.88) vs. Zach Davies (2-4, 4.74) and the Crew in a battle of veteran righties. The Cards should have a better gauge on William Fowler's bruised right knee by first pitch, which is slated for 6:40 pm CT at Miller Park.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.