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NLCS Gm4: Betancourt lines a game-tying RBI single to center, scoring Jerry Hairston

ST. LOUIS -- There is still one more game to be played in the shadow of the St. Louis arch, but the path to the World Series will go through Milwaukee.

That was the big-picture implication of a 4-2 Brewers win in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series on Thursday, a victory that evened the best-of-seven series at two games apiece and ensured the teams will meet again at Miller Park. Entering the night, it was the best possible scenario for baseball's best home team.

"Obviously, the goal was to make sure we get an opportunity to go back home and play Game 6," said Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun, whose fifth-inning single drove in the go-ahead run. "If we didn't get to do it, it would have meant our season was over."

Left-hander Randy Wolf ensured an extension with seven effective innings to tie an LCS at 2-2 for the first time in either league since the Cardinals met the Mets in 2006.

These current NLCS combatants would have it no other way. They have now played 22 games in 2011, and each team has won 11. All said, only two runs separate them in those games.

Road redemption
The Brewers improved to 4-11 in postseason road games and broke their eight-game road losing streak in the playoffs
W, 4-2
L, 4-3
L, 10-6
L, 8-1
L, 5-2
L, 3-1
WS 7
L, 6-3
WS 6
L, 13-1
WS 2
L, 5-4
WS 1
W, 10-0
L, 4-2
L, 8-3
L, 7-3
W, 2-1
W, 5-3
"I think it's classic, because playing each other so many times, we're dead even," said Cards manager Tony La Russa. "I think there's going to be a lot of similarities, and it comes down to that day, you know, who makes the pitch. Today, we had a couple of chances to have a run, and Wolf made outstanding pitches. It's that close of a contest."

The contest came down to Jerry Hairston's slick slide in the fourth inning, Braun's go-ahead hit in the fifth and Wolf's redemptive start, with the 35-year-old left-hander bouncing back from his NL Division Series nightmare to become the first starter in this NLCS to work past the sixth inning.

History says the Brewers' alternative would essentially have been a series death sentence. A loss would have dropped Milwaukee into a 3-1 hole, and only two of the 14 teams to face that deficit in the best-of-seven NLCS managed to advance to the World Series.

"It's a huge difference," Wolf said. "You have to win three games in a row to win the series. Statistically, mathematically, that makes it very difficult, especially against a team that's really hot."

Wolf was charged with cooling the Cardinals while erasing his bad memories of a three-inning seven-run dud at Chase Field that sent the Brewers and D-backs into a decisive NLDS Game 5. He didn't know then whether he had thrown his final pitch in 2011.

"I'll be honest -- the day after the D-backs game, I didn't eat or shower that day," Wolf said. "I don't know if they call that depression."

Wolf was granted a second wind two nights later, when the Brewers clinched their first trip to an LCS in 29 years, guaranteeing Wolf at least one more start. He made the most of it.

Wolf allowed only two runs on six hits in seven solid innings for his first career postseason win. Wolf was so solid -- six strikeouts vs. only one walk -- that manager Ron Roenicke traded an opportunity to pinch-hit in top of the sixth inning for two more innings of his starter. Wolf rewarded his manager by retiring the final six batters he faced.

"We jumped on him earlier, and he kind of went away from his changeup and started throwing the curveball a lot," said St. Louis outfielder Allen Craig. "That made it tough on us. We just didn't adjust. It just didn't happen for us tonight."

Craig hit one of two solo home runs off Wolf as the Cardinals built a 2-0 lead through three innings at Busch Stadium, where a wind blowing out to right field aided an earlier homer. Matt Holliday hit what appeared to be a medium fly ball in the second inning that carried, carried and carried some more, all the way to the seats for a 1-0 lead.

Craig stung his homer into the Cards' bullpen in the third inning, and this one was well-struck, though it came off a quality Wolf pitch -- a changeup below the strike zone -- that again went to right field. La Russa told a TBS audience that "there's some funny things happening out there."

Wolf chalked up the Holliday homer to brute strength.

"I think all three of us -- me, George [Kottaras, the catcher] and Matt -- we were all kind of surprised it went out," Wolf said. "But he's a strong enough guy. It's like trying to pitch to Brian Urlacher. He's a beast."

The lead lasted until the fourth, when Hairston continued his sensational postseason run with an RBI double to crack Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse. It scored Prince Fielder, who had led off the inning with a sharp double of his own.

Hairston scored the tying run on a sharp single to center field by Yuniesky Betancourt, thanks to some savvy baserunning. St. Louis first baseman Albert Pujols relayed the throw home, where Hairston slid around catcher Yadier Molina and swiped his left hand over home plate a moment before Molina applied the tag.

"I'm not the biggest guy out there, so usually running over a catcher is not an option, so I'd better learn how to slide," Hairston said. "Yadi does a great job behind the plate, blocking the plate. I just wanted to get there as soon as I could and avoid his tag, and I was able to do that. It's not that easy, but I just tried to find a way to find the plate."

The Brewers pushed ahead with a fifth-inning rally sparked by Cardinals nemesis Nyjer Morgan's double. He was at third when La Russa tapped a bullpen that had saved Game 3 with four innings of perfect relief, but Braun countered with his go-ahead hit.

Braun's hit off Mitchell Boggs was the first off a St. Louis reliever since Fielder homered off Boggs leading off the eighth inning of Game 2, snapping a run of 18-up, 18-down relief.

The Brewers were stopped there when Cardinals second baseman Ryan Theriot initiated a terrific double play to rob Fielder, who playfully jabbed Theriot in the gut as the Cards jogged off the field. Theriot gave back the following inning, when he couldn't handle a Kottaras grounder with runners at second and third, spotting Milwaukee a run and a 4-2 lead.

Wolf and relievers Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford finished the job.

Zack Greinke will be on the mound for Milwaukee in Friday's Game 5 at 7:05 p.m. CT on TBS. Roenicke said late Thursday that "right now" he still plans to pitch Shaun Marcum in Game 6 on Sunday.

"We've been in this situation," Pujols said. "It's best out of three. That's how you need to look at it. We need to win tomorrow. It's going to be tough in Milwaukee, but I think one thing we can look at, we're pretty much the only team in the National League that has been playing pretty well in Milwaukee. So you just need to flip the page and come back, and hopefully take the lead [Friday] and see what we have on Sunday." Comments