ST. LOUIS -- Freddy Peralta swung awkwardly and grimaced. It was exactly the sight the Brewers have been trying to avoid this season.
By night’s end, however, there was a sigh of relief. And a pretty good celebration.
Peralta, the 25-year-old right-hander in the midst of a breakthrough, and one of a trio of Brewers contenders for the National League Cy Young Award, made an early exit with a cranky right shoulder but watched the team rally for a 6-4 win over the Cardinals in 10 innings at Busch Stadium on Wednesday.
“This might be our best win of the season because everybody contributed,” said Christian Yelich, who contributed to the decisive, three-run 10th with a run-scoring bunt, of all things.
“Yeah, it definitely goes to the top of the list or close to the top of the list, for sure,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “It was just a great team effort, more than anything.”
Yelich’s bunt was on a long list of factors that tilted the outcome toward the Brewers’ 17th victory in their last 19 road games and pushed them 9 1/2 games over the second-place Reds in the National League Central. It’s the second-widest division lead in franchise history to the 10 1/2-game cushion enjoyed by the 2011 Brewers in early September of that season.
“Felt like a playoff baseball game tonight,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “Games are won and lost in the little things.”
Best of all for these Brewers, the postgame report on Peralta was promising.
“I just was a little uncomfortable yesterday and a little bit today before the game,” Peralta said. “On the swing, I just felt it a little bit more. So that’s why I came out of the game. But it wasn’t [caused by] the swing. No, no. It was nothing about the swing.”
After getting initial treatment, Peralta said, “We saw everything is fine. It is probably a little inflammation. Nothing crazy. I think I will be good for my next game.”
Hunter Strickland took over in emergency relief with the Brewers facing a 3-0 deficit and seeking their first baserunner against St. Louis ace Jack Flaherty, who was making his second start after missing 60 games due to a left oblique strain. And they promptly made it a ballgame thanks to seven innings of scoreless relief going into extras, a trio of solo home runs -- one from Willy Adames and two from Avisaíl García, including a tying shot off Cardinals closer Alex Reyes in a tense ninth inning -- and a slew of small ball plus some sloppy St. Louis defense in the decisive 10th, when all three Milwaukee runs were unearned.
Peralta was not the only participant to watch the finish from the clubhouse. Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado was ejected by the first-base umpire before the start of the ninth inning after voicing his displeasure about being called out on a check swing for the second time. Minutes later, Brewers catcher Omar Narváez and Counsell were ejected by the home-plate umpire after Narváez was called out on a pitch that appeared well outside.
Counsell had barely reached the base of the steps leading up to his office when García hit the very next pitch for a tying home run off Reyes, who found much more trouble in the 10th. Jackie Bradley Jr. scored the go-ahead run on a Reyes wild pitch and Yelich added insurance with a bunt single to Arenado’s replacement at third base in a rally aided by two Cardinals errors. Jace Peterson also drove in a run in the inning.
Yelich said he pondered the bunt as the inning began -- “I was a little more comfortable with Nolan not out there,” he said -- and decided to go for it amid the “chaos” of the go-ahead wild pitch. It wasn’t perfectly executed, he said, but it was good enough.
“To be a good team, to be a playoff team and get to where you want to go, you have to be able to win all kinds of games,” Yelich said. “With our pitching and the guys that we have, we're never really out of a game.”
That includes the bullpen. Strickland, Jake Cousins, Brent Suter, Miguel Sanchez, Daniel Norris and Josh Hader all pitched scoreless relief after Peralta’s early exit and held the Cardinals to two hits from innings Nos. 3-9.
“That’s what good teams have. Good teams have those bullpens that keep them right there and allow your team to come back,” Shildt said.
It had been a wobbly start for Peralta, who entered the night with a 2.26 ERA and a .141 opponents average but yielded three Cardinals runs on five hits in the first two innings. He was pitching Wednesday on seven days’ rest, part of the team’s ongoing effort to give Peralta as much of a breather as possible between outings as he approaches a career high for innings, with a postseason run in mind.
There was optimism late Wednesday that Peralta will take his next turn as scheduled. The Brewers currently have Corbin Burnes, Peralta and Brandon Woodruff lined up to start next week’s series at home against the Reds.
“He described it as ‘scratchy.’ His shoulder just wasn’t perfect today,” Counsell said. “He’s not concerned. Our trainers are very optimistic as well. We’re going to be cautious no matter what, I think.”
Peralta was similarly bullish.
“I don’t feel bad enough to miss my next start,” he said. “I know my body. I know my arm. I know that is something I can work a little bit on with all the trainers and be fine.”