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Cardinals Quick Hits: Brewers slug for lead, bullpen holds fast to split series

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MILWAUKEE — A June series that pitted the two remaining teams vying for the NL Central title and started with both teams sporting the same record became a showcase of their bullpens.

Call it a draw.

The Milwaukee Brewers’ lockdown trio of reliever Brad Boxberger, setup man Devin Williams, and closer Josh Hader secured a 6-4 victory Thursday and a split of the four-game series at American Family Field. It was the second time in four days that Williams and Hader pitched the final two innings of a game to edge the Cardinals, and in the games bookended between those bullpen outings for the Brewers, the Cardinals won – because their relievers neutralized the Brewers.

During the two games the Cardinals won, their bullpen allowed one hit and no runs over 10 1/3 innings. In the two games the Brewers won, Williams retired all six batters he faced, and combined with Hader to get 12 outs from the 12 batters they faced.

The Cardinals leave Milwaukee as they arrived, tied with the Brewers for first place in the division with the same record, at 40-32.

The Cardinals complicated their bid to win the four-game series with poor pitching to open several innings. Three times in eight innings, the Brewers loaded the bases before the Cardinals’ pitcher could get an out. Twice they did it against starter Dakota Hudson. The right-hander dodged the first threat with a double play, but when the Brewers did it against the fourth inning, Hudson could not repel the threat. Taylor hit a three-run homer off Hudson, and Willy Adames followed an inning later with a solo homer to push the Brewers out to a lead their bullpen would not relinquish.

In the eighth, reliever Drew VerHagen faced three batters and all three of them reached base. Milwaukee added an insurance run with a sacrifice fly.

Hader made sure they didn’t need it, retiring three batters in the ninth for his 21st save.

Hudson pulls off ‘Houdini,’ but magic doesn’t last

In the third inning, consecutive singles and a walk to leadoff hitter Christian Yelich loaded the bases without an out, putting Hudson in bind that only a “Houdini” could solve.

While hardly an official stat, the nickname in baseball for being in a bases-loaded jam with no outs and getting out of it is called after the master magician Houdini because it takes some sleight of hand and stagecraft to pull off. After a visit from pitching coach Mike Maddux, Hudson saw what rabbits he could pull out of the hat. He struck out Adames with an inside fastball at 93 mph for the first out of the inning. That put him one pitch away from a double play – and he got that quickly from No. 3 hitter Rowdy Tellez.

With that double play, Hudson got the “Houdini.”

It was a nice trick, but he couldn’t do it twice.

An infield single and two walks loaded the bases again in the fourth inning before Hudson could get an out. Lars Nootbaar stole one for him (see below), and then things went haywire. Tyrone Taylor tagged a three-run homer to lift the Brewers into the lead and mulch one of the longest streaks without allowing a home run in the majors. Hudson had gone 46 1/3 consecutive innings without allowing a home run. When Taylor’s bolt to left field ended it, Hudson’s streak was the fifth-longest active run in the majors.

He didn’t get a full inning before allowing another one.

Adames led off the fifth inning with a solo homer against Hudson, and when the bullpens got involved for the final three innings, that homer was the difference on the scoreboard.

Nootbaar’s throw (upon further review) saves run

In that problematic fourth inning, right fielder Nootbaar erased one run from happening with a strong through from right field. With teammate Andrew McCutchen at second, Victor Caratini singled to right. McCutchen wheeled around third with intent to score. Rookie catcher Ivan Herrera stood casually near home, giving no indication that Nootbaar’s throw was on the way, and McCutchen received no instruction from teammates that his race home would be interrupted.

It was.

But it took a challenge by the Cardinals and a video review in Manhattan to determine that Nootbaar’s throw not only beat McCutchen home, but Herrera’s tag did, too, in part because McCutchen didn’t slide. The replay showed Herrera catching Nootbaar’s throw and swiping to get McCutchen’s shin just ahead of the foot hitting the plate. Replay officials in New York called McCutchen out. The assist was Nootbaar’s second of the season in 134 innings in the outfield.

Bunt gives Cardinals best bet against Brewers bullpen

Since spring training, Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol and Hall of Fame baseball writer Rick Hummel have had a cordial exchange about the value of a sacrifice bunt and how it’s too often overlooked in the modern game. The arrival of the designated hitter in the National League has further diminished the appeal of the sacrifice bunt, and Marmol told Hummel multiple times not to expect the Cardinals to lead the league in such attempts.

They entered Thursday’s game with two sacrifice bunts in 71 games.

Only five teams have fewer, including Milwaukee, with one.

(The Giants have none.)

But there’s a time and place for everything, and that time and place came up in the seventh inning after Nootbaar’s leadoff single in the seventh inning. The Cardinals trailed by a run, 5-4. No. 9 hitter Herrera, hitless in the majors, had a chance to drop a bunt, move Nootbaar into scoring position, and get the Cardinals top of the order up with two shots (at least) to bring home the tying run. Herrera missed on one of his attempts to bunt at a strike before delivering with a push down the first-base line.

"You want to see the top of your lineup do what they get paid to do," Marmol said.

With Nootbaar at second, the Cardinals had Tommy Edman and Nolan Gorman in line to try and tie the game with a base hit. Edman worked an eight-pitch walk, and Gorman hit a sharp line drive to left field. In concert with the walk, the timely bunt, worked even better than designed and set the inning up for Paul Goldschmidt to get a swing at tying the game – or more. Boxberger got a popup to end the threat.

Milwaukee plays Goldschmidt’s double into Cardinals’ lead

In the first inning, the Cardinals grabbed a quick 2-0 lead when a double in the corner prompted a series of misfires and errant throws that gave Goldschmidt a chance to tour the bases. Goldschmidt turned on a pitch from Brewers starter Jason Alexander, and it went far enough for Gorman to score all the way from first base.

Goldschmidt took third base on the ill-advised throw home to try and get Gorman. When Alexander then corralled that ball and tried to whip it to third the throw went back into left field from whence it came. Goldschmidt trotted home for the 2-0 lead.

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