ST. LOUIS -- While they foiled the Brewers' bullpen blueprint, the Cardinals couldn't master their own -- and it cost them all the cushion they once enjoyed in the National League Wild Card race.
A three-game series featuring two clubs currently in Wild Card position opened with the Brewers stealing a 6-4 win at Busch Stadium on Monday night. The loss dropped the Cardinals three games behind Milwaukee with five games left on their schedule. The Rockies lurk only a half-game back.
Colorado, now even with the Cardinals in the loss column, has won four in a row.
The Cardinals had been on their own surge with six victories in seven games. But on a night when they erased an early deficit with a pair of home runs off All-Star reliever Josh Hader, the Cards gifted too much back. The Brewers tallied a half-dozen runs while going hitless with runners in scoring position.
"I'm always a glass-half-full guy, but it's always a little harder when you feel like you didn't take care of your own business when it was there," manager Mike Shildt said. "We didn't help ourselves."
Assistance came from all over. It began in the sixth, as the Brewers chased starter Jack Flaherty and pestered the Cardinals' bullpen by drawing five walks in a 10-batter span. Three runs scored while St. Louis' pitchers groped for command. A sloppy defensive sequence in the eighth then helped home the winning run for Milwaukee.
"That's Major League Baseball," said Milwaukee's Eric Thames. "You have to capitalize on errors, on bad pitches, on wild pitches and stuff like that. It worked out good tonight."
A game that had already featured seven Brewers pitchers -- the first of which faced one batter -- and a 31-minute midgame rain delay entered the eighth tied at 4. Bud Norris opened the inning with a strikeout before Thames came off the bench and smacked a looping liner to right-center. Outfielder Jose Martinez, seeming unsure whether he should dive for the ball or snag it on a hop, chose the former too late.
A ball that had a catch probability of 58 percent, according to Statcast™, skipped past Martinez for a triple.
"It was just a reaction," Martinez said afterward.
"You can't fault a guy for trying to make a play," Shildt added. "He feels like he can catch it right there."
Thames later scored the go-ahead run when Norris nailed baserunner Mike Moustakas with a pickoff throw to first.
"They all sting, especially this time of year," Norris said. "This is the dog days. Everyone is running on adrenaline. We are in this thing for a reason. They have a good ballclub. We have a good ballclub, and we are going to fight this one out."
Despite setting up their bullpen to have Dakota Hudson, Jordan Hicks and Norris bridge the game to closer Carlos Martinez, the Cardinals did not get shutdown relief from any of the three. After starter Flaherty loaded the bases with a walk and hit batter, Hudson walked in a run. Milwaukee drew two more walks while scoring off Hicks.
"As simple as it is, I got in my own way there," said Flaherty, winless in five starts this month. "It's not like they smashed the ball around the yard. Everything kind of just got out of control, and I wasn't able to make an adjustment which is obviously frustrating. It's not the time for those kinds of things to happen."
All this negated the work the Cardinals' offense did to rally against one of the league's toughest lefties. Hader, who had allowed two home runs in 20 second-half appearances, served up long balls to Jose Martinez and Marcell Ozuna in the sixth. The blasts briefly put the Cardinals ahead, 4-3.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Though it was unlikely that Moustakas was going to take much of a lead off first base with the tying run on third and one out in the eighth, the Cardinals' dugout called for Norris to throw over to first to keep Moustakas close. It backfired. Norris' low throw hit the Brewers third baseman and scooted away far enough to allow Thames to score. The Brewers went ahead, 5-4, with that run.
"Moustakas isn't a burner, but we are trying to keep it close, for sure," Norris said. "It was a decent throw, but obviously it creeped in and got him and bounced away. It's a tough break, very unfortunate."
Afterward, Shildt took "full responsibility" for the pickoff attempt.
"Sometimes," Brewers manager Craig Counsell added, "you need a break."
Hicks' seven blown saves are tied for the most in the NL and are the most by a Cardinals rookie since Todd Worrell blew 10 saves in 1986.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
With his 23rd home run of the season, Ozuna has now accounted for the three hardest-hit home runs by the Cardinals since Statcast™ was introduced in 2015. Monday's featured an exit velocity of 113.9 mph, ranking second on that list. The 414-foot blast was Ozuna's seventh home run -- and 10th extra-base hit -- this month. He's driven in 18 September runs, most on the team.
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Brewers requested a second look after home-plate umpire Lance Barksdale ruled that a Corey Knebel pitch in the ninth hit Matt Carpenter on the wrist. The call stood after a 59-second review, giving the Cardinals a chance to get the potential tying run to the plate. Martinez struck out looking to end the game.
Second baseman Kolten Wong is expected back in the lineup Tuesday when the Cardinals continue their three-game series against the Brewers with a 7:15 p.m. CT game from Busch Stadium. On the mound, it'll be a matchup of southpaws, as Austin Gomber (6-1, 3.63 ERA) will face Giovany Gonzalez (9-11, 4.28 ERA) in his first career start against the Brewers. Gomber will be pitching on six days' rest.