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Cardinals eliminate Brewers from playoff contention

The Sports Xchange

ST. LOUIS — The Milwaukee Brewers were one of baseball’s best stories this year, spending 65 days in first place and assuring themselves of finishing second place in the National League Central.

But they couldn’t quite accept pats on the head Saturday for a good season, not after how their hopes of a NL wild-card berth ended.

Ahead 6-0 in the third inning, Milwaukee blew the lead and the game as the St. Louis Cardinals pieced together a shocking rally for a 7-6 victory at Busch Stadium.

After scoring four times in the third inning to pull back into contention, St. Louis (83-78) delivered the killing blow with three runs in the bottom of the eighth. Harrison Bader’s two-strike, two-out RBI single to left scored Stephen Piscotty with the winning run.

The Brewers (85-76) got the tying run to second with two outs in the ninth after Orlando Arcia’s infield single and a stolen base by pinch-runner Quintin Berry. But Brett Phillips swung through a 2-2 fastball from Juan Nicasio for the last out and the end of a surprise bid for the playoffs.

That the odds were steep — Milwaukee had to win twice and the Colorado Rockies needed to lose twice — didn’t dull the Brewers’ pain one bit.

"It stings," Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell admitted. "I’m proud of how they battled, how they took every single day and how they became a team. That’s why we were in this position on the second-to-last day of the season."

Making it hurt even more was that Milwaukee appeared to be control most of the game, even after the Cardinals drew within two runs. Relievers Jacob Barnes, Jared Hughes and Josh Hader combined for four scoreless innings to get the Brewers six outs from surviving for at least a few more hours.

But Hader and Anthony Swarzak (6-4), part of a bullpen that has been worked heavily down the stretch, couldn’t get the game to closer Corey Knebel. Hader allowed a bloop single to Greg Garcia to start the eighth and was lifted for Swarzak.

Tommy Pham walked and both runners moved up 90 feet on Paul DeJong’s grounder to first. Swarzak deepened the mess by walking Jose Martinez to fill the bases. Piscotty lashed the first pitch into left for a two-run single.

Martinez ran into an out at third and Piscotty was called out by Greg Gibson as he tried to take second on the throw. But replay overturned Gibson’s call and Piscotty was in scoring position for Bader’s game-winning hit through the left side.

"We had guys who wanted to be out there, and I wanted them to be out there," Counsell said of the bullpen. "But they’re tired."

The rally allowed St. Louis, which was knocked out of the wild-card race on Thursday night, to take its NL Central rival with it into the offseason.

"A great win," summed up Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. "When you’re down six runs like that and you show that kind of life where we are in the season ... the young guys just continued to play the game."

Ryan Sherriff (2-1) pitched the eighth inning for the win and Nicasio posted his sixth save for St. Louis, which won for just the second time in eight games.

Milwaukee took the lead in the second on Arcia’s sacrifice fly, then seemed to take command with a five-run third. Ryan Braun doubled, Travis Shaw knocked in two with a single and Domingo Santana belted a two-run homer to right center, his 30th of the season.

However, DeJong and Martinez each delivered two-run doubles in the Cardinals’ half of the third. The Brewers missed on plenty of chances to add on, leaving eight men aboard in the last five innings.

That’s why Shaw, who surpassed 100 RBIs with his single in the third, couldn’t take any pride in his accomplishment.

"Seems like we’ve lost a ton of one-run games lately," he said. "We just couldn’t do our part today."

CREW CUTS: Milwaukee RHP Corey Knebel entered with 126 strikeouts, the most for any MLB reliever since the Yankees’ Dellin Betances collected 126 last year. ... St. Louis RHP Alex Reyes (elbow) threw a bullpen session, a reminder of what the Cardinals missed this year and could have next year. Reyes underwent Tommy John surgery during spring training, and might be a mainstay of next year’s rotation. ... St. Louis’ lineup again missed five everyday players, including 2B Kolten Wong (back), CF Dexter Fowler and 3B Jedd Gyorko.

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