'Pen loses some luster in tight spot for Cards
St. Louis leans on relief corps early, but Crew strikes for key runs
ST. LOUIS -- It turns out the Cardinals' vaunted bullpen isn't quite invincible after all.
Cards relievers combined to post an impressive 2.13 ERA through the first three games of the National League Championship Series, but it was the bullpen that ultimately let the game slip away in a 4-2 loss to the Brewers on Thursday that evened the series at 2-2.
Manager Tony La Russa opted to go to his bullpen in the fifth inning, lifting right-hander Kyle Lohse after just 4 1/3 frames after he allowed a leadoff double to Nyjer Morgan and a groundout from Mark Kotsay that moved Morgan to third.
Hard-throwing right-hander Mitchell Boggs was summoned to face Ryan Braun. The decision backfired, as Braun laced a 1-2 fastball into left field for the go-ahead run. Braun, who was 2-for-8 against Boggs in his career entering the at-bat, said he wasn't surprised to see Boggs in that situation.
"I think Boggs is the type of guy who has overpowering stuff, so it's an opportunity to get either a strikeout or popup, which is what you're looking for in that situation," Braun said. "I just tried to shorten my swing up and make sure I was able to put the ball in play."
Boggs, though, was able to get out of the inning on a sensational double play turned by second baseman Ryan Theriot on a hard-hit ground ball off Prince Fielder's bat.
But Boggs ran into trouble again in the sixth, when Rickie Weeks opened the frame with a single and reached third on a double from Jerry Hairston.
Boggs then got Yuniesky Betancourt to ground out to keep both runners put for the first out of the inning, but then was removed in favor of veteran left-hander Arthur Rhodes.
Rhodes did his job by getting left-handed-hitting catcher George Kottaras to hit a chopper to Theriot, but the ball bounced off Theriot's chest for an untimely error that allowed Weeks to score and Kottaras to reach first safely.
"It was a bad break," Rhodes said. "It probably took a bad hop on him. You can't do anything about that."
It was certainly a key play, especially considering Brewers manager Ron Roenicke decided to keep Kottaras in that situation instead of bringing in fellow catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who bats right-handed, as a pinch-hitter.
"I don't know why we decided to leave it as is," Roenicke admitted. "We already were up a run, which had a lot to do with it. I felt good with George facing Arthur Rhodes and putting it in play and at least getting us one run. And he did a good job there."
Roenicke also allowed Randy Wolf to bat for himself after Kottaras reached, and the lefty starting pitcher laid down a sacrifice bunt to put two runners in scoring position for Morgan. Rhodes, however, struck out Morgan looking to end the inning, but the damage was done.
Right-handers Octavio Dotel and Fernando Salas then combined to throw two scoreless innings.
St. Louis starters have combined to average just 4 1/3 innings per outing this series.
"We had a chance to win today," La Russa said. "It's real simple; this is the end of the season for these starters, too, so they are probably not as strong. Go as far as you can, as long as you can and we have plenty of bullpen help."
But as the Cardinals' Game 4 loss proved, sometimes having plenty of bullpen help isn't always enough.