MILWAUKEE — A decisive element of the Cardinals’ ongoing search for that reliever who could seize a middle inning and steal time for the offense to rally was, of course, banking on their offense to at some point conjure that rally.
They had not always been able to sync the two.
They did Wednesday, emphatically.
In his 25th appearance in the majors, Johan Oviedo, emerging on this trip as the answer to the Cardinals’ middle-relief riddle, earned his first big-league win. He had been 0-9. But the win only came when he froze the Brewers’ one-run lead in the fifth and Nolan Arenado reversed it in the sixth inning. Arenado’s two-run homer coupled with Oviedo’s 2 1/3 scoreless innings lifting the Cardinals to a 5-4 victory against Milwaukee and back into first place in the National League Central Division at American Family Field.
In relief of starter Adam Wainwright, Oviedo entered in the fifth inning with two of the veteran’s runners still on base and one out to get. Oviedo got the groundball that kept Wainwright’s ERA from bloating and, more essentially, the Brewers’ lead from swelling. The young right-handed picked up the pace from there, striking out three of the next six batters he faced to deliver a one-run game to the back end of the bullpen.
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With Giovanny Gallegos and Ryan Helsley unavailable after splitting four innings of work Tuesday, Genesis Cabrera pitched two innings, looking only briefly into the abyss of a blown save in the ninth.
Cabrera got a groundout from Christian Yelich with the tying run at second base to secure his first save of the season.
The Cardinals built their offense on home runs from Paul Goldschmidt in the first inning and Arenado’s game-changer in the sixth. It was only the fifth time in their season and a half together that they’ve homered in the same game. Goldschmidt drew a walk from Brewers starter Eric Lauer ahead of Arenado’s at-bat to put the tying run on base. Arenado’s 406-foot mash to left field on a 2-0 pitch allowed him to follow Goldschmidt all the way home.
Oviedo, 24, made 13 starts for the Cardinals in 2021 as part of their mad scramble to cover innings as they cascaded out of contention in June, and he quarreled with command and efficiency as a starter. Twice in Boston last week the Cardinals rallied late in the game, but fell shy of overtaking the Red Sox because of runs allowed by a middle reliever. Manager Oliver Marmol saw where the Cardinals’ need and Oviedo’s skillset could merge: the bullpen.
“That’s the plan,” said Marmol. “Put him in the ‘pen, hope that it helps.”
In his second appearance in that role, Oviedo echoed what he did in the first, and thanks to the rally became the sixth Cardinal pitcher this season to earn his first win. He became the first Cuban-born player to win a game for the Cardinals since Tony Fossas in 1997.
Familiar foe chases Wainwright
Given his long tenure in Pittsburgh and return this year to the NL Central with the Brewers, there isn’t an active player who has seen more plate appearances against Wainwright than Brewers designated hitter Andrew McCutchen.
And only a few have had as much success.
Their history as an opponent traced back 77 plate appearances entering Wednesday’s game, and by the fifth inning McCutchen had two more that upended Wainwright’s start.
McCutchen tagged a solo homer in the fourth inning to bring the Brewers within one of the Cardinals, and in the next inning he followed with a ground-run double that put the Brewers ahead 4-3. McCutchen’s home run came on the first pitch he saw from Wainwright, and the double came on the 101st and final pitch Wainwright threw.
Earlier in the trip, in Boston, Marmol removed Wainwright abruptly during an inning and did not give the veteran a chance to complete an inning, to get the out from a favorable matchup and shape his start. He got that opportunity Wednesday. Marmol allowed Wainwright to face two batters who homered off him — Rowdy Tellez and McCutchen — with two outs in the fifth inning. Wainwright had the chance to throw the pitch to complete five innings, qualify for the inning, and not let another pitcher give up the fall-behind run.
He did not retire either batter, and McCutchen’s RBI double meant Wainwright had misplaced the lead and was in line for a loss. But his pitch got to determine that.
For only the second time this season, Wainwright failed to finish the fifth inning, throwing 4 2/3 innings, striking out seven, and allowing four runs on seven hits.
The home run by McCutchen was his fifth of the season and third of his career against Wainwright. Among active players, only Ian Happ (four) and Joey Votto (four) have more.
Yepez’s adventure in field spurs Brewers rally
There was a moment when both Juan Yepez and the baseball were lost in the glare of the ribbon board that made up the left-field wall at American Family Field. As he turned and twisted and tried to track down the fly ball headed toward the wall, he reached, and — maybe somewhere in those lights there was a catch.
When the ball trickled out onto the grass of left field, it was clear there wasn’t.
One of the tradeoffs the Cardinals have made over the past month because of injuries to Tyler O’Neill has been playing rookie infielders, Yepez and Brendan Donovan, in the outfield where usually a Gold Glover roams. They are betting on the bat. They expect and have received some misssteps in the field.
They got several as Yepez faded towards center, cut back towards straight left, and failed to chase Yelich’s high-soaring fly ball off Wainwright in the fifth. Instead of the second out on a catch at the wall, Yelich had a double and the Brewers had an inning motion. A run to tie game 3-3 came home on the misplay by Yepez that was ruling a double, and Yelich would score the go-ahead run three batters later.
After Yepez’s at-bat in the top of the sixth inning, he was replaced by Lars Nootbaar to improve the outfield defense with a one-run lead.
Goldschmidt returns with a bang (again)
It’s rare that Goldschmidt gets a day off, so the evidence is slim, but it is powerful.
A day after not appearing in the lineup to give his sore lower back a rest, Goldschmidt returned to the starting lineup, at designated hitter, and did immediately what he has done every previous game this season when he did not play the day before.
Goldschmidt staked the Cardinals to a 2-0 lead in the first inning when he followed Dylan Carlson’s single with a 377-foot shot to left field. The home run was Goldschmidt’s 17th of the season and his fourth following a day off. Goldschmidt has missed four games total this season through the Cardinals’ first 71, and after his first inning homer Wednesday he was seven for 13 (.538) in those games with seven RBIs and five runs scored.
Pujols extends lead, moves up in more rankings
The sacrifice fly that put the Cardinals ahead by two runs and became more significant later pushed Albert Pujols ever higher in another career ranking.
In the fourth inning, Pujols sailed a ball to left field, far enough to be a sacrifice fly that scored Arenado for a 3-1 lead. Pujols’ 120th career sacrifice fly tied him for the sixth-most all time with Ruben Sierra and Hall of Famer George Brett.