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Cards lose control of playoff destiny | Sports

The Cardinals no longer control their playoff destiny.

A second consecutive loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, this one by a 12-4 count Tuesday night at Busch Stadium, left them four games behind the Brewers for the first wild-card berth in the National League.

More importantly, Colorado’s 10-3 victory over Philadelphia pushed the Rockies a half game ahead of the Cardinals for the second wild-card berth. And that half game is on the loss side, where Colorado has 70 and the Cardinals 71. Both teams would have 87 victories. 

The Rockies must lose at least one of their final five games to give the Cardinals a chance, even if the Cardinals win their final four.

Milwaukee, meanwhile, moved a half game behind the Cubs for the Central Division lead after Pittsburgh’s 6-0 win Tuesday night in Chicago.

Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich had six runs batted in, three on a fourth-inning triple off Tyson Ross and three more on a ninth-inning homer off Brett Cecil.

The Cardinals trailed almost from the beginning as Cardinals starter Austin Gomber (6-2), who had given up only five homers in 69⅓ innings this season, surrendered  two in the first inning.

Jesus Aguilar bashed his 34th and Ryan Braun, who has 18, hit his first of two on the night.

Gomber would strike out six Milwaukee hitters, getting his sixth in the fourth inning. But, with two out in the fourth he suddenly allowed consecutive singles to the final three hitters in the Brewers’ order — Jonathan Schoop, Manny Pina and pitcher Gio Gonzalez, who was three for 49 for the season with 31 strikeouts.

The last hit cost Gomber his spot on the mound as right-hander Ross relieved. Ross, reliable in middle relief since the Cardinals picked him up on waivers on San Diego, didn’t stem the tide this time.

He walked Lorenzo Cain on a full-count pitch to load the bases and Yelich, sailing past the 100 RBI mark, unloaded them with his triple, running the count to 6-0. Yelich has seven triples, 33 homers and 104 RBIs.

But Yadier Molina cut that deficit in half with his 20th homer, a three-run shot off Gonzalez in the fourth after a one-out single by Marcell Ozuna and a walk to Jedd Gyorko.

The hit was Molina’s ninth in 25 career at-bats (.360) against Gonzalez.

Jose Martinez had his second misadventure in two nights in right field when he failed to catch Mike Moustakas’ drive which hit the wall with one out in the fifth. It went for a double. Pina eventually singled in a run but Dominic Leone kept the Cardinals in the game by getting two outs, one on a strikeout of pinch hitter Eric Thames, with the bases loaded.

The Cardinals got one back in their fifth, which opened on rookie Patrick Wisdom’s single, his fifth pinch-hit in 14 at-bats. Wisdom would come around to score on Paul DeJong’s sacrifice fly but Gyorko, who left seven runners for the night, grounded into a double play started by third baseman Moustakas to end the inning. 

The Cardinals lost Matt Carpenter to an ejection in the seventh when he protested a Will Little ball on a strike three that appeared out of the strike zone. Carpenter was tossed as he was walking away although he was still talking.

Martinez’s double sent to third Greg Garcia, who had pinch hit a single. DeJong, however, struck out and, after Ozuna walked, Gyorko, who had a rough night, flied to right.

After missing three games because of tension in both hamstrings, notably in his left leg, Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong has returned to the lineup for Tuesday’s matchup with the Milwaukee Brewers and a longtime foe, lefthander Gio Gonzalez.

Gonzalez hasn’t faced the Cardinals as a Milwaukee pitcher, having been acquired in late July but, with the Washington Nationals., he made nine starts, not counting two in the 2012 postseason, in which he is 3-4 with a 2.97 earned run average.

Gonzalez suffered a 5-4 loss here on Aug. 14 when he still was with the Nationals.

He is winless at Busch at 0-3, with a 4.13 ERA although he did start Game 1 of the division series in 2012 when the Nationals beat the Cardinals here. Gonzalez, encountering control problems which still plague him, also squandered much of a six-run lead in the decisive Game 5 when the Cardinals rallied for a 9-7 win in Washington.

Dexter Fowler is a .478 hitter against Gonzalez but, of course, is injured and not playing. Wong is four for six with two walks against Gonzalez and, with more at-bats, Yadier Molina is .348 when facing Gonzalez.

Manager Mike Shildt, pointing out Wong’s success against Gonzalez in limited exposures, said that the lefthanded hitter was playing Tuesday because he was a regular player, meaning against all types of pitching.

“(Yairo) Munoz has done a tremendous job (in relief of Wong) but Kolten’s a Gold Glove-caliber defender. . . and he’s swung the bat lately, swung the bat against lefties. . . it wasn’t really challenging a decision if he’s healthy and he’s ready to go,” Shildt said. 

“We were hoping for a little more recovery after the first day but we got it the last two days.”

WAINWRIGHT TO START CUBS’ SERIES

Shildt has nominated veteran Adam Wainwright, coming off two consecutive strong starts, to open the three-game series with the Cubs beginning Friday in Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Miles Mikolas, a 17-game winner, is slated to follow, with rookie Jack Flaherty, who hasn’t won in September, scheduled for Sunday.  These could be subject to change,  such as Flaherty being skipped if the Cardinals already have clinched a wild-card berth, so that he could start the wild-card game on Tuesday.

MARTINEZ REMAINS IN RF DESPITE MISPLAY

Jose Martinez, moved to right field when he faltered at first base, made really his first bad play in the outfield when he slid trying to stop an Eric Thames’ eighth-inning hit that turned into a triple Monday. Thames then scored the lead run in Milwaukee’s 6-4 victory but Shildt said he saw no reason not to start Martinez in right field in another big game Tuesday.

Shildt routinely has taken Martinez out for defense when the Cardinals were ahead but left him in Monday in a tie game “because you know that at-bat is coming up and you want him to have it.”

Shildt said Martinez actually had made two good plays in the field, running down a long fly at the wall by Manny Pina and sneaking in to cover first base where the Cardinals could have had an out during a rundown had time not been called by home-plate umpire Lance Barksdale.

“Outside of the ball last night, I don’t know that there’s been any glaring defensive issues with Jose. He’s throwing to the right base and his hitting his cutoff man,” Shildt said. 

“Some nights I go, ‘I don’t find the need to get him out of there,’ other than there’s a little more speed or a better arm (from a younger reserve).

“He didn’t make a play he was trying to make and he was aggressive. You can’t fault him for that.”

SHILDT ADUSTS STRATEGY LATE IN SEASON

Shildt admitted that late in the season, with expanded rosters and with playoffs at stake, he manages differently “knowing there’s a finality to it. Sunday’s the last regular-season game and, clearly, we’re in a playoff race. We have a day off coming up (Thursday). . . and we are going to push a little bit more and use the resources we have with an expanded roster.”

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