MILWAUKEE — The Cardinals had made it easier on staff ace Jack Flaherty by scoring 54 runs for him while he was in the game during his first seven starts, six of which were victories. Flaherty saw the other side of this coin for the first time this season Thursday but his performance was unaffected by the fact the Cardinals scored only one run for him in his six innings.
Flaherty didn’t allow any runs to the Milwaukee Brewers and neither did the Cardinals’ bullpen as the Cardinals scored one run in the first and another in the ninth for a 2-0 victory in the series-clinching game of a three-game set, increasing the Cardinals’ lead over Milwaukee to three games in the National League Central Division.
The series was controlled by starting pitching. Milwaukee’s threesome of Freddy Peralta, Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes worked 19 1/3 innings, giving up nine hits and two runs for an 0.91 ERA while striking out 27. Kwang Hyun Kim, John Gant and Flaherty allowed 12 hits and one earned run in 16 1/3 innings for an ERA of 0.55.
Relaying something president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said to him after the final game of the series, Shildt said, “That was a heavyweight fight for three days.”
Flaherty, the first six-game winner in the majors, is 7-0 after his four-hit, six-strikeout performance. Twice, in the second and sixth innings, he stranded leadoff doubles and he benefited from good defensive play, notably from shortstop Tommy Edman, who caught a popup with his back to the infield in the fourth, avoiding what could have been a serious collision with center fielder Harrison Bader.
“It was fun,” said Flaherty. “It was a good match between two really good teams. Obviously they’re missing (Christian) Yelich … but it was a fun series all the way around. It makes for exciting games. It makes for exciting baseball.
“You’ve got to try to keep yourself composed. I just try to keep myself under control.”
Flaherty was matched against Burnes, who fanned nine before he walked Edman in the fifth, ending the Brewers righthander’s record streak of strikeouts without a walk from the start of the season at 58.
There has been much talk, pro and con, whether the Cardinals had an ace in Flaherty. That question seems to have been answered now. He has given up more than two earned runs in just one of his past seven starts and none in his past two, covering 13 innings.
But Flaherty said, “I don’t have to prove anything to anybody else. I do everything for my own reasons and for the people in my corner. All I try to do is execute and let everything else speak for itself.”
The Brewers had been hard on Flaherty, beating him six times in eight decisions, including three wins in three decisions here and Flaherty carried an earned run average of 7.07 here into Thursday’s game. He had allowed seven homers in 28 innings at Miller Park/American Family Field.
“I’ve got some demons here,” Flaherty said. “But at the end of the day, you’ve got to find a way to push that to the side and focus on staying present. All those things happened in the past and all you can control is what’s going on right here in the present.
“No previous games are going to have an effect on what goes on today. That’s the only way to look at it. The numbers are there and they are what they are.”
Manager Mike Shildt said “Jack’s not going to back down from anybody. He embraces the competition.”
The Cardinals clung to a 1-0 lead they took in the first until the ninth when pinch hitter Lane Thomas walked, went to second on an infield out, stole third and came home as Brewers lefthander Angel Perdomo threw wildly to first base, trying to pick off Dylan Carlson, who had walked.
The Cardinals took their first lead in regulation time in the series when Nolan Arenado, who had been a .368 lifetime hitter in this park, singled with two outs in the first to score Edman from third. Edman opened with a single off Burnes, stole second and went to third on Paul Goldschmidt’s one-out grounder.
After Arenado’s hit, Matt Carpenter blooped a hit to center, where Lorenzo Cain missed a sliding catch attempt. Arenado set sail for third, where coach “Pop” Warner had the stop sign up but Arenado, after slowing briefly, revved up again and headed home. Diving headfirst for the plate, he was thrown out by shortstop Luis Urias.
The Cardinals missed a chance to forge farther ahead in the seventh. Pinch hitter Justin Williams walked before being forced by Edman, who dashed to third on Dylan Carlson’s single to right off lefthander Brent Suter.
Goldschmidt flied to short center, where Cain made the catch. Edman was waved home by Warner but cut down by Cain for the final out. If Edman had been held, Arenado would have been the scheduled hitter but no doubt would have been walked with the light-hitting Carpenter up next.
Giovanny Gallegos, who rested on Wednesday when the game got away late after Gallegos had pitched two innings on Tuesday, had a scoreless seventh, walking one, and Genesis Cabrera had little trouble in the eighth.
Brewers second baseman Kolten Wong turned in a highlight-reel play like so many he had made in St. Louis to snuff out another Cardinals threat in the eighth.
The first two hitters, Arenado and Carpenter, reached base by hit and walk before Tyler O’Neill struck out for the third time and Bader hit into a forceout. Andrew Knizner grounded a potential run-scoring hit up the middle but Wong flashed behind second, backhanded the ball, jumped and threw out Knizner at first.
Alex Reyes knocked off his 11th save in 11 tries in the ninth, again favoring the slider which helped him put away a couple of games in this series in which he struck out eight in three innings although he walked four, including a leadoff walk in the ninth on Thursday.
“He’s a dog,” said Flaherty in the flattering sense. “He loves that moment.”
During the wild-card series last year in San Diego when Reyes was having a rougher time as a late-inning man, Flaherty said he told Reyes, “Ain’t nobody else I’d rather having coming out of the ‘pen in any situation.
“I don’t know if that meant anything to him. I really don’t care. But he’s run with it. He’s been lights out. He’s been unbelievable in that ninth inning and he’s going to continue to be.”
Reyes also allowed a single in the ninth but struck out three three hitters.
“It’s not ideal to go out and walk the leadoff man,” said Reyes, who has walked 17 in 20 innings. On the other hand, he has given up just one run in those 20 innings and that’s the payoff number.