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STL@MIL: Miller earns first win of the season

MILWAUKEE -- A new set of contributors emerged for the Cardinals on Tuesday night, their efforts helping lift the club to a 6-1 win that ensures them of a series victory against the Brewers. The victory, which bumped the Cardinals to within a game of division-leading Milwaukee, was also a boost to the long-term forecast.

Shelby Miller found his footing. Allen Craig showed continued signs of rediscovering his swing. And Mark Ellis got himself back onto the field after a nagging knee injury delayed his Cardinals debut. The latter two combined to drive in the first three of St. Louis' runs, providing Miller with a lead that he never allowed Milwaukee to seriously threaten.

It was more of a familiar frustration for the Brewers, who, since being sent home by the Cardinals in the 2011 postseason, have lost 25 of 36 games to the division rival. Though the Cardinals continue to downplay the dominance over a team that had reeled off nine straight wins, it can't be overlooked that St. Louis has a run differential of plus-76 over Milwaukee since Mike Matheny assumed his managerial seat.

And yet…

"We don't take any out, any batter for granted here, because this is a team that has shown the rest of baseball what we know they've got," Matheny said. "We know this is going to be a good team. We keep talking about it, but it's worth talking about. The National League Central is going to be tough, and these guys are going to be right there."

The Cardinals entered Tuesday having won eight of their first 13 despite the struggles -- and in Ellis' case, the absence -- of expected key pieces. Regardless, the club believed it was only a matter of time before a 15-game winner and proven run-producer returned to form.

Tuesday looked to be that time.

Miller held the Brewers to one run -- Aramis Ramirez's fourth-inning homer -- in six innings to pick up his first win of the season. The right-hander had been knocked around for eight runs in his first 11 1/3 innings of the season and was in jeopardy of losing three straight decisions for the first time in his career.

"It feels good," Miller said, "to get back in the win column."

Miller worked around walks to three of the first six batters with the assistance of a double play and Yadier Molina. Not only did his catcher throw out Jonathan Lucroy trying to swipe second, but he noticed Miller's early tendency to pull his body too far toward the left side of the mound in his delivery.

"We talked about it, and he made the adjustment," Molina said. "I felt like the last start by him was good. This one was even better.

After the intervention, Miller did not issue another walk.

Aside from Ramirez's home run, the fifth Miller has allowed this season, the righty did not allow a Milwaukee baserunner to reach second. His fastball had the sneaky quick quality that opponents often cite, and Miller kept the Brewers off of it by liberally mixing in his curveball and changeup.

"Milwaukee has a great offense, a lot of power in the lineup," Miller said. "The biggest thing you do is try to keep them off balance as much as possible."

Through six career starts against the Brewers, Miller has yet to lose to them. On the flip side, Brewers starter Marco Estrada remains unable to solve the Cardinals. He is 0-5 against St. Louis with a 5.60 ERA in 13 games (eight starts).

Working around their own baserunning issues, the Cardinals posted three consecutive one-run innings, beginning in the second. A groundout by Ellis in his first at-bat since coming off the disabled list scored Molina, who was hit by a pitch and advanced to third on Jhonny Peralta's double.

In his next at-bat, Ellis plated Molina with a sacrifice fly.

"It's amazing when the adrenaline of a big league game and in big at-bats your mind can take over and you can focus better at the plate," said Ellis, whose knee passed the test of enduring two contact plays on defense. "It was good to get those big at-bats out of the way."

Sandwiched between was Craig's third-inning RBI double, his first extra-base hit 47 at-bats into the season. Matt Carpenter, who preceded Craig with a one-out walk, scored on the knock to deep center.

Matheny had moved Craig into the second spot in the order for the first time this season, citing Craig's recently improved timing at the plate as a harbinger for a breakout. Though Craig finished the game 1-for-4, he also hit another ball to the warning track in left field.

"That was a good day for him," Matheny said. "Big double there, but just missed that changeup his first at-bat, too. He's getting real close."

Home runs by Matt Holliday (his first) and Peralta (his team-leading fourth) helped cushion the lead late. The win was secured by scoreless relief appearances from Pat Neshek, Kevin Siegrist and Seth Maness. With it, the Cardinals have an opportunity on Wednesday to earn their first series sweep of the year.

Thus far, they have held the once-surging Brewers to one run on six hits with 23 strikeouts.

"It's frustrating that they keep winning these series against us," Estrada said. "I do remember 2011, how it was basically roles reversed. We were the better team. I don't know, all of a sudden things changed, and they've been winning most of the series. It is a new year. I know obviously they won the series already, but it's early. We're a pretty good team over here."

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