Cards rally to keep spot atop NL Central perch
After being no-hit for 5 2/3 innings, St. Louis tops Crew with big eighth
ST. LOUIS -- With a come-from-behind 5-1 victory over the Brewers on Wednesday, Lance Lynn earned a stay in the rotation and the Cardinals maintained their solo presence atop the National League Central standings.
Having already watched the Pirates complete a sweep of the Rangers in Texas earlier in the day, the Cardinals took the Busch Stadium field in front of 43,040 fans -- a total that included 7,906 complimentary tickets handed out to military members and first responders -- needing a win to keep Pittsburgh from pulling into a first-place tie.
Lynn provided the foundation for it with a critical rebound performance. The offense later pitched in four eighth-inning runs to cap a comeback on a night that again began with the Cardinals no-hit through 5 2/3 innings.
"It seems like we're always in it, and then something always happens, a little dribbler down the line or something," said Brewers starter Marco Estrada, whose club is now 3-12 against St. Louis. "We were in the game, and unfortunately it fell apart."
For Milwaukee, the crumbling came in the eighth. Having tied the game an inning earlier on Daniel Descalso's two-out single, the Cardinals caused reliever Brandon Kintzler trouble when he returned for another frame.
After falling behind, 0-2, Matt Carpenter singled for the second time in the game. His hit two innings earlier was the first for St. Louis. Jon Jay followed with an eight-pitch walk and Matt Holliday filled the bases with an infield single.
A sacrifice fly by Carlos Beltran broke the tie. Matt Adams, who had already been snatched of a hit by an errant umpiring call, provided the final cushion with a two-run homer off lefty Michael Gonzalez.
"He's stepping up in a big way," Carpenter said of Adams. "You lose a guy like Allen [Craig], it can be a loss for a lot of teams. But Matt stepped in and played great. Tonight is another example of that."
The runs came too late to help Lynn snap a personal five-game losing streak, but the righty did earn the satisfaction of knowing he'll have to wait only five more days for another chance to end it. With the organization clear that Lynn's rotation spot was tenuous, Lynn delivered his best outing since July.
"Tonight was a good [performance]," Lynn said. "Hopefully, [it's a] building block for me going down the stretch to get myself right for this team and the run we're trying to make."
Lynn was aggressive, efficient and unfazed when things went wrong around him. To varying degrees, all three had been trouble areas for him in recent weeks.
Establishing his fastball command quickly was an early key, and it afforded Lynn the opportunity to then mix in more offspeed pitches as the game progressed. Of the 23 batters Lynn faced, 15 saw first-pitch strikes.
Lynn traversed through six innings on 93 pitches, fewer pitches than it took Lynn to cover five innings in his last start and four the one before that. After striking out 28 in his last six starts combined, Lynn finished Wednesday with 10.
"It was a very good outing and that's something that I know he was ready to see," manager Mike Matheny said. "It was one that was more consistent than he's had in a while. Hopefully, it's just a sign of what's to come."
The Brewers' only run was an unearned one in the second. After allowing a one-out single and subsequent walk, Lynn answered with a strikeout of Juan Francisco. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke took a gamble, sending both runners on Lynn's second pitch to Logan Schafer.
Tony Cruz, starting behind the plate with Yadier Molina away due to a family situation, sailed his throw. Carlos Gomez scored easily from third. Lynn, after walking Schafer, closed the inning with a strikeout.
"You look at what could have happened in the second with the unearned run that comes across," Matheny said. "Those in the past have turned into bigger innings. He refocused, got back on the mound and made good pitches."
Perhaps it's no coincidence, either, that Lynn's resurgence came just hours after he and the rest of the team's starters were summoned into a meeting. Members of the coaching staff were present as well, but it was veterans Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright who did most of the talking.
With two rookies in the rotation and another (Joe Kelly ) who has never started a postseason game, Carpenter and Wainwright emphasized the need to be mentally prepared for this final stretch. The message was one of assurance -- that the group need only to pitch to potential, not try to do too much despite the growing stage.
"It was a good meeting, even for me, who has been through it a little bit," Lynn said. "Carp might be one of the best playoff pitchers of all time. For him to give everyone the confidence that they need to go out in this push is a good thing."
Lynn may have capped the day with his 14th win had a call not gone against the Cardinals in the second. Beltran led off the inning with a walk, after which Adams drove a pitch down the right-field line. It bounced off the outfield padding, clearly striking the yellow line that separates fair territory from foul ground.
First-base umpire Chris Guccione nevertheless called the ball foul, forcing Beltran back from third. Matheny argued and the umpiring crew huddled but did not overrule Guccione.
"We were looking for somebody who was conclusive, 110-percent sure that it was different than what Chris had called," crew chief Tom Hallion later told a pool reporter. "We could not come up with that."
Hallion confirmed that replays did show they missed the call. A double play and flyout ended that inning.
"It was a big turn of events," Adams said. "It would have been first-and-third, nobody out in a close ballgame where the pitchers were throwing the ball [well]. But we just kept battling all game."