ST. LOUIS -- In a matchup of two reconfigured bullpens, the Cardinals' gave way first. And in a tightly contested pennant-race game, a relatively small opening was enough for the Brewers to break through and beat St. Louis, 5-3, at Busch Stadium on Tuesday night.
Octavio Dotel was reached for three hits and two runs in the 10th inning, but the pivotal hit was a slow rolling ground ball that would have been an out if not for a shift on Prince Fielder. Dotel had entered the game in the ninth for the injured Lance Lynn and stayed in for the 10th.
Most effective against right-handed hitters, Dotel was left in for an inning that started with two left-handed hitters among the first three men to the plate. Both of them, Nyjer Morgan and Prince Fielder, singled to get the rally going. Casey McGehee's double gave Milwaukee the lead, and a sacrifice fly by Yuniesky Betancourt provided insurance.
Fielder's ball was a soft grounder to the right side of second base. If the infielders had been in relatively normal positions, it would have gone for an out and possibly even a double play. Instead it kept the inning alive for McGehee, who tormented the Redbirds once again, having hit three home runs the last time the two clubs met.
The Cardinals saw their four-game winning streak, which equaled their longest of the year, come to an end on a deflating night. They are now four games behind the first-place Brewers in the National League Central. That's the biggest lead any team has had in the division in 2011.
"We just need to win games," said Lance Berkman, who went 1-for-5. "I remember with the Astros, being nine back of [the Cardinals] with about 11 games left in the season, and we almost tied them. So anything can happen. You go out there and you play. Not to make light of this series or when we play these guys. When you have a chance to play the team that's in front of you, you would like to take advantage of it. But they're in front of us for a reason -- because they have a great team."
Adding to the Cardinals' frustration is the injury to Lynn. The rookie right-hander, a critical component of the club's relief resurgence in recent weeks, left the game in the eighth with a strained left oblique muscle. He walked pinch-hitter George Kottaras, and on the last pitch of that at-bat, he doubled over in pain. Manager Tony La Russa said that Lynn is likely headed to the 15-day disabled list.
Still, even with Lynn out, the Cardinals had several relievers available. Mitchell Boggs, Fernando Salas and lefty Marc Rzepczynski all were available while Dotel slogged through the difficult 10th.
"That's the guy that I figured would be the best," La Russa said. "Plus, he's rested."
La Russa deflected the idea of pitching Rzepczynski, noting the presence of Ryan Braun between the two lefties and McGehee after them. Still, Rzepczynski has been more effective against right-handed hitters this year than Dotel has been against lefties.
Either way, though, it's not as though the game was decided entirely in the 10th. Half an inning earlier, the Cards had missed a chance to close it out. A single and an error brought up Albert Pujols with two on and two out, but Pujols flied out to right field to send the game to extra innings.
St. Louis didn't manage a single run against the Milwaukee relief corps.
"The biggest problem was, we tied it in the sixth, [then] we had three innings to score a run, right? And we couldn't make something happen," La Russa said. "That was key."
Starters Edwin Jackson and Shaun Marcum both had to work to get through six innings, then handed a tie game to their bullpens. Marcum looked strong early before the Cardinals made some headway. Corey Patterson poked a two-out RBI single in the fifth to get the Cardinals on the board. An inning later, David Freese and Gerald Laird added run-scoring singles to tie it.
Once Marcum was removed, the Milwaukee 'pen locked down. Takashi Saito, July acquisition Francisco Rodriguez, LaTroy Hawkins and John Axford all pitched shutout ball, allowing three hits and no walks over four innings.
"With our bullpen right now, I feel like any time we have a lead, I really think we're going to win the ballgame," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "Once we go to [Rodriguez] and then [Axford], I feel like we've got the game won. They've been doing a great job."
Jackson had a strange, up-and-down night -- over the course of the evening, his luck probably evened out. His last run was unearned, the result of a two-out single following a passed ball that put Felipe Lopez in scoring position. Yet an inning earlier, he escaped a bases-loaded, no-out scrape with two at-'em liners and a caught-stealing.
On the whole, then, the line basically told the truth. Jackson earned a quality start but not a win. It was certainly a change for the better after he was tattooed in Milwaukee six days earlier.
"Same pitches, just a little bit more execution," Jackson said. "Just trying to attack the zone and make them put the ball in play."
Jackson retired the first seven batters in order before allowing a third-inning single to Jonathan Lucroy. After a sacrifice moved Lucroy over, Jackson got ahead of Corey Hart, 0-2. But Hart worked the count full before drilling a hanging slider for a two-run homer that put the visitors ahead.
Jackson worked around errors in the fourth and fifth, dodging that dicey situation in the latter frame, before allowing another two-out run in the sixth. He stayed in to hit for himself in the bottom half of that inning before giving way to Jason Motte. Lynn allowed only a walk in 1 2/3 innings and Dotel closed out the frame before getting into trouble in the 10th.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.