MILWAUKEE -- The losses keep coming for the Cardinals, targeting them in different spots. Wednesday's sacked the depth chart. Thursday's hurt their pride. Friday's hit them in the gut.A day after their struggles crested in a performance manager Mike Matheny called "embarrassing," two solo homers spoiled a near-historic effort from
MILWAUKEE -- The losses keep coming for the Cardinals, targeting them in different spots. Wednesday's sacked the depth chart. Thursday's hurt their pride. Friday's hit them in the gut.
A day after their struggles crested in a performance manager Mike Matheny called "embarrassing," two solo homers spoiled a near-historic effort from Jack Flaherty and sent St. Louis spiraling to its eighth loss in 10 games. Red-hot Milwaukee first baseman Jesus Aguilar provided all the ammunition for a 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Brewers at Miller Park: His solo home run broke up Flaherty's no-hit bit in the seventh before his walk-off shot off Bud Norris won the game in the ninth.
"Jack did everything he could possibly do … and we lost," Matheny said. "It doesn't matter. Ugly ones, like yesterday. On the verge of something really special today with Jack. Especially watching them walk us off, it's hard."
It wasn't until Flaherty's 101st pitch that the he surrendered his first hit, when Aguilar golfed a slider over the wall in left. The rookie right-hander had been nearly flawless up to that point, retiring 19 of the first 22 hitters he faced while the Cardinals' offense largely stayed silent. Spotted a one-run lead courtesy of a manufactured run in the third, Flaherty leaned heavily on his signature slider to carve thrice through the Brewers' lineup.
He matched a career high with 13 strikeouts across seven brilliant innings in a performance St. Louis needed. Cardinals starters entered Friday sporting a 6.70 ERA in their past nine games, over which injuries and ineffectiveness tested the club's depth and taxed its bullpen. Flaherty became the first to eclipse six innings since June 12, when Miles Mikolas did so against the Padres. The 22-year-old is the only National League rookie to record double-digit strikeout games this season.
"Jack was incredible," Norris said.
Said Matheny: "It was the kind of start we were hoping for. We needed it today and he gave it to us today."
Two innings after Flaherty left, Aguilar and the Brewers' bullpen rendered it to a mere footnote. The last of St. Louis' three hits came in the sixth -- four relievers combined to retire the Cardinals' final 12 hitters, setting the stage for Aguilar's heroics. The second loss in as many games to start this important four-game set ensured the Cardinals will not win their fifth series in six tries. It dropped them to two games above .500, and 6 1/2 back of Milwaukee in the National League Central.
"It's been tough," Norris said. "We're trying. We want this thing to turn around quick. But this is a tough division. We know that. These guys are good. There is a reason they are in first place. We have to stay positive and keep grinding. We have a whole second half to play and hopefully this will all be forgotten."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Benches clear: Tempers flared briefly after a misunderstanding between Cardinals shortstop Yairo Munoz and Eric Sogard. Firing to second to get the lead out on a Hernan Perez attempted sacrifice bunt, reliever Jordan Hicks' throw took Munoz into the runner, forcing contact between Munoz and Sogard. The situation was quickly defused; no punches were thrown and no one was ejected.
"We got caught up in the moment," Munoz said, through team interpreter Carlos Villoria. "He didn't say anything at all. I wanted to leave it like that."
"The first words that came out of my mouth were, 'Are you all right?' I don't know if he understood what I was saying but he got a little mad and I guess we both got a little fired up," Sogard said. "It was just kind of a heat of the moment thing. I'm glad it didn't escalate into anything further." More >
Flaherty became second Cardinals starter to carry a no-no into the seventh this month, joining Michael Wacha. Wacha did so against the Pirates on June 3. No Cardinals starter has completed a no-hitter since Bud Smith in 2001.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
The night began rather ominously for the Cardinals, when they lost their center fielder four batters into the game. It wasn't a colorful protest that got Tommy Pham ejected following his strikeout in the first. Instead, Pham was tossed from the dugout by home-plate umpire Tim Timmons after Pham continued to argue a strike-three call from the bench. Timmons interrupted Marcell Ozuna's at-bat to eject Pham, who was then replaced by Harrison Bader in the lineup.
"That was a big situation ... yeah, I'm mad," Pham said. "You don't [usually] see them looking back in the dugout. Maybe he felt something in his conscience." More >
HE SAID IT
"It doesn't matter what I did. It doesn't matter what anybody did. We lost at the end of the day." -- Flaherty
One of the NL's top starters so far this season, Mikolas (7-2, 2.69 ERA) will look to continue to build on his All-Star candidacy when this series continues with a Saturday matinee. That Mikolas has won just one of his four June starts is hardly his fault: He's received 2.75 runs per game of support over that stretch. Right-hander Chase Anderson (5-6, 4.54) will oppose, with first pitch set for 3:10 pm CT from Miller Park.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.