The Cardinals let a close one slip away Thursday... But they did manage to win two of three against Milwaukee and maintain their 10 1/2 game lead over the Cubs in the National League West standings.
John Smoltz was a hard luck loser, pitching a solid six innings that should have seen him head to the shower at worst in a two all tie. Of course, the Birds could have scored more runs against Manny Parra, a guy who entered the game with a 6.66 ERA...
The question is what does St. Louis do with Smoltz, who has made three solid starts? He was originally planned to go to the bullpen after a couple of tune up starts. But he's been more effective and more reliable than Kyle Lohse or Todd Wellemeyer. Does it help the Cardinals more to have Smoltz available to pitch an inning or two out of the bullpen ever other day or to pitch six innings every five days?
Cardinals Star of the Game: Julio Lugo was 3-for-4 with a walk.
Lowlight: Colby Rasmus got on base as the potential tying run in the eighth... And then was picked off. I think we can file that one under "rookie mistake."
Matt Holliday hits a solo homer in the eighth to cut the Cardinals deficit to 4-3. AP photos.
Top of the first:
The John Smoltz comeback tour continues to rock on. He allowed a single to Ryan Braun but struck out Prince Fielder to end the first inning with no damage. Last time out he struggled in the first. This time, he threw 12 pitches. MIL 0, STL 0
Bottom of the first:
Julio Lugo hit a leadoff homer in the Cardinals half if the first, easily clearing the wall into the Brewers bullpen. Albert Pujols walked and Matt Holliday singled. Then a Ryan Ludwick base hit plated Pujols to give the Birds an early lead. MIL 0, STL 2.
Top of the second:
Smoltz struck out two of three in the second inning and retired the middle batter on a weak fly to right. He's dealing and has thrown only 18 pitches. The question is, how can the Cardinals take him out of the rotation if he keeps it up with a third strong start? MIL 0, STL 2.
Bottom of the second:
The Cardinals didn't mount much of a threat -- with the exception of Lugo's two-out double laced down the left field line. With seven innings to play, he's a single and a triple away from the cycle. MIL 0, STL 2.
Top of the third:
Smoltz takes the Brew Crew down 1-2-3 again in the third. It has taken only 29 pitches to rack up four strikeouts. It's a little warm. But I don't think the 42-year-old Cardinals hurler has broken a sweat. Besides the first inning single, he hasn't given up anything close to a hit. MIL 0, STL 2.
Bottom of the third:
Pujols grounded out and Holliday lined a single over the head of the pitcher. Ludwick hit into a double play to end the threat. MIL 0, STL 2.
Top of the fourth:
Braun, who had the Brewers only hit up to this point, got their second hit, too. Rescued twice on boarderline calls with two strikes, Prince fielder singles Braun to third and Braun scores on a sacrifice fly. MIL 1, STL 2.
Bottom of the fourth:
The Cardinals quickly go 1, 2, 3... MIL 1, STL 2.
Top of the fifth:
Smoltz again carves up the Brewers with a pair of high flies to the outfield and a pop-up to the catcher. The offense needs to fire things up against Parra and get Smoltz some insurance. MIL 1, STL 2.
Bottom of the fifth:
Another 1, 2, 3 for Parra... I hate when the Cardinals can't hit pitchers with 6+ ERAs. MIL 1, STL 2.
Top of the sixth:
Smoltz was tagged for a leadoff double and the runner went to third when Frank Catalanotto lined a ball off of his left arm and into foul territory. He struck out Ryan Braun, who already had two hits. Fielder hit a grounder to Lugo that may have ended the inning with a double play. But Lugo fumbled it and had to settle for a the play at first while the tying run crossed the plate. McGehee then hit a homer that crawled over the left field wall just inside the foul pole. Smoltz struck out Cameron to end the inning. His ERA as a Cardinal quadrupled to 2.65. MIL 4, STL 2.
Bottom of the sixth
Heart of the order... And nothing. Ludwick walked with two outs and then DeRosa hit a ball deeeeeep into the shortstop hole and was robbed of a base hit when Fielder made a nice pick of the ball in the dirt ont he other end. Smltz is out in a double switch. Blake Hawksworth is pitching and Troy Glaus is batting ninth and playing third base. MIL 4, STL 2.
Top of the seventh:
Hawksworth was efficient in the seventh and held the deficit to two. The Cardinals need to get after it and score some runs. I am personally offended that Manny freaking Parra was allowed to bat in the seventh inning. MIL 4, STL 2.
Bottom of the seventh:
Yadier Molina walked then Rick Ankiel struck out and Parra has been lifted for righty reliever David Weathers (3-5, 3.58.) Glaus hit a groundrule double (to improve his season batting average to .500) and Lugo walked to load the bases. The Cardinals pinch hit with Skip Schumaker for Brendan Ryan. The Brewers counter with lefty Mitch Stetter (3-1 3.96.) And then the Cardinals pinch hit with Khalil Greene who struck out looking to bring Pujols up with the bases loaded. In comes Claudio Vargas (1-0, 2.42.) Albert at the plate... full count... bases loaded... And mighty Casey has struck out... MIL 4, STL 2.
Top of the eighth:
It's 1, 2, 3 for Hawksworth thanks to Ludwick's sliding catch to end the inning. MIL 4, STL 2.
Bottom of the eighth:
Holliday hit a solo homer to make it 4-3... If only Pujols would have walked with the bases loaded and a full count... Colby Rasmus walked as a pinch hitter -- and then got picked off. Molina walked and then Ankiel flied out to left to end the threat. MIL 4, STL 3.
Top of the ninth: 1, 2, 3 for Trever Miller. MIL 4, STL 3.
Bottom of the ninth:
Glaus whiffs. Lugo bunts for a single. Greene strikes out and here comes Pujols representing the winning run... and he strikes out again... FINAL MIL 4, STL 3. Check bat shortly for the wrap up.