ST. LOUIS -- Ryan Braun turned back the clock to break a club record he helped set as a rookie a dozen years ago.
More important, the Brewers remained right in the thick of the National League postseason race with two weeks to go.
Braun fouled off one full-count pitch with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning on Sunday before silencing the Busch Stadium crowd with a go-ahead grand slam that sent the Brewers to a memorable 7-6 win over the Cardinals. Braun’s slam was the Brewers’ second home run of the day and their 232nd this season, which breaks a club record that had stood since 2007, when Prince Fielder hit 50 homers and Braun hit 34 on the way to winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award.
“I’m definitely not as good as I was, but in big moments, I’m the guy, still,” Braun said. “I still want that opportunity.”
• Box score
Josh Hader gave up a two-run homer to Tommy Edman in the ninth, but the lefty sealed a victory that meant the Brewers will begin their final regular-season homestand three games back of the first-place Cardinals in the NL Central and one game back of the Cubs for the NL’s second Wild Card.
Thirteen regularly scheduled games remain for the Brewers, all against losing teams. The Cardinals only face winning teams, including seven head-to-head games left against the Cubs.
“It felt like our season was on the line,” Braun said. “That’s the approach we’ve tried to take every day once we got into that Cubs series and lost that first one. We’ve approached every game like it’s a must-win.”
• Grand slam means 30% off pizza
He was talking about Sept. 5 at Miller Park, a 10-5 loss to the Cubs that dropped the Brewers 7 1/2 games behind the Cardinals in the division standings and five games behind the Cubs in the Wild Card race. Since then, Milwaukee has won nine of 10 games, including six of seven on this trip through Miami and St. Louis that was marred by Christian Yelich’s season-ending knee injury.
“Guys are stepping up and filling the void,” Brewers pitcher Chase Anderson said.
One of them is Braun, who isn’t having the September he would like -- he entered that at-bat 0-for-4 in the game and 4-for-34 this month. But twice on the road trip, he delivered game-winning home runs, including a go-ahead, two-run shot in the third inning on Thursday in Miami, two days after Yelich went down.
“That’s the message for everybody: You’re going to get moments,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “These last two weeks are going to provide everybody with moments. You don’t know when they’re going to come, but you try to lock yourself in because you’re going to get a chance to do something special.”
Sunday offered plenty of opportunities.
“That game took a lot of twists and turns,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said.
You think? It was a 1-0 game entering the seventh inning before the teams traded five home runs in the final three innings of an instant classic. There was a wall-banging catch by Lorenzo Cain that kept the previously reliable Ray Black’s rough seventh inning from being worse. There was a costly Cardinals error in the eighth that helped the Brewers score the only run of the game that didn’t come on a homer. And there was a go-ahead rally in a ninth inning missing Cardinals closer Carlos Martinez, who was unavailable because of a respiratory issue.
The Brewers pushed ahead against three different Cardinals relievers, after loading the bases with walks from pinch-hitter Ben Gamel and Travis Shaw and another from Yasmani Grandal that gave the keen-eyed catcher 99 walks this season. Mike Moustakas put a one-out fly ball in the air, but third-base coach Ed Sedar held Gamel at third. That decision extended the inning for Braun to bat.
“I just was chatting with Eddie and I said, ‘That might have been your best ‘no send’ of the year,” Counsell said. “Because it’s so tempting.”
It came down to Braun versus Cardinals rookie Junior Fernandez with two outs and the bases loaded. They’d met before under those circumstances in the eighth inning on Aug. 21. Braun struck out in a full count.
This time, the outcome was different.
“There’s been some memorable Ryan Braun home runs … but that’s right up there, there’s no question about it,” Counsell said.
Counsell was there for many of them. In 2008, Braun hit a walk-off grand slam with two outs in the 10th inning to finish a sweep of the Pirates for a Brewers team bidding to end the franchise’s 26-year postseason drought. Days later Braun delivered the hit that clinched the Wild Card, a go-ahead, two-run homer in the eighth inning of the regular season finale against the Cubs while CC Sabathia was en route to another complete game. Three years later, under eerily similar circumstances, Braun hit a tiebreaking, three-run homer to beat the Marlins on the night the Brewers clinched the 2011 NL Central crown.
And as recently as last year, when Braun posted a pair of multihomer games during the Brewers’ eight-game winning streak to end the regular season and clinch another division title.
“I believe in myself,” Braun said. “I’ve had a lot of success in those moments. I think I’m able to lock it in a little bit more.”
Now comes the home stretch. Milwaukee’s final homestand features seven games in as many days against the Padres and Pirates, then a pair of three-game series at Cincinnati and Colorado. All of those clubs are double-digit games under .500.
Asked whether that represents a favorable slate, Counsell said, “‘Favorable’ is for everybody else to figure out. We have a game in front of us. It’s hard to win them, and we have to do everything we can to win them.”
Braun and the Brewers have been here before.
“As a group, it feels similar to what we went through last year,” Braun said. “There’s so many guys stepping up, so many guys contributing, and this relentless belief that we’re going to find a way to win.”
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like him on Facebook.