ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 13: Randy Wolf #43 of the Milwaukee Brewers throws a pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals during Game 4 of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium on October 13, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jeff Haynes-Pool/Getty Images)
In Thursday's Game 4, Randy Wolf worked seven sparkling innings, and the Brewers tied the Cardinals in the best-of-seven at two games apiece.
It's funny the way baseball can work out. This isn't going to be another baseball-is-weird article - the world has enough baseball-is-weird articles already - but consider Game 3 of the NLCS. The Brewers handed the ball to Yovani Gallardo, and the Cardinals handed the ball to Chris Carpenter. Staff aces, both of them. Game 3, then, was shaping up to be a pitchers' duel, and it kept looking that way right up until it wasn't. Neither Gallardo nor Carpenter was very good, and neither starter worked into the sixth.
Now consider Game 4. The Brewers were to hand the ball to Randy Wolf, and the Cardinals were to hand the ball to Kyle Lohse. Staff aces, neither of them. In Wolf's other postseason start, against the Diamondbacks, he allowed seven runs in three innings. In Lohse's other postseason start, against the Phillies, he allowed six runs in 5⅓ innings. Game 4, then, was shaping up to be a barnburner, a matchup not of the pitchers, but of the bats.
And that's not how it went. Lohse wasn't particularly good, mind you, but Wolf was excellent, and the Brewers rallied for a 4-2 win that evened the NLCS at two games apiece.
We saw our first real action in the bottom of the second, as it was the Cardinals who got off on the right foot. They did that only barely, but they did that, establishing a 1-0 lead on this:
That is a home run by Matt Holliday, and one of the weaker home runs you'll ever see hit. But a weak home run counts the same as a strong home run.
The next inning - after Lohse pitched out of a jam - the Cardinals added a strong home run. This one came off the bat of Allen Craig, who Tony La Russa started in place of Lance Berkman. Craig rode a low changeup out to right-center for a solo shot that pushed the Cardinals' lead to 2-0.
That was about where the Cardinals' offense stopped, and a few minutes later was when the Brewers' offense began. Prince Fielder led off the top of the fourth with a line drive double. Two batters later, he scored on a double down the left field line by Jerry Hairston Jr. to cut the deficit in half. Right after that, Yuniesky Betancourt lined a pitch into center for a single that brought Hairston all the way around. Just like that, the game was tied.
Lohse escaped that inning without sustaining any more damage, but his struggles weren't done. Wolf's were. Wolf threw a perfect fourth, and the Brewers went ahead in the fifth. Nyjer Morgan led off with a double, and advanced to third on a ground ball. At that point Tony La Russa called on Mitchell Boggs to replace Lohse, even though Lohse had thrown just 81 pitches. The first batter Boggs faced was Ryan Braun, and Braun shot a single by short and into left to plate Morgan.
The top of the fifth wasn't all bad for the Cardinals - they did get this sweet double play, featuring Ryan Theriot.
But despite that double play, the Cardinals emerged trailing by a run. And they didn't get that run back in the bottom of the fifth, as Wolf kept the bats quiet.
In the sixth, the Brewers added critical insurance. Rickie Weeks led off with a single, and moved to third on another double to left by Hairston. Two batters later, George Kottaras bounced a weak grounder, and with Weeks running home, Theriot couldn't make a clean play. Weeks scored, everybody reached, and the Brewers extended their lead to 4-2. That's all the scoring they'd do in the frame, but it was important.
And that 4-2 score - that's where it stayed for the remainder. The Cardinals wasted a leadoff double in the bottom of the sixth, as Wolf got himself into trouble, then got himself out of it. Then in the seventh, Wolf worked a 1-2-3 inning, ending it with an Allen Craig roller back to the mound. As such, Wolf got the assist in retiring his last batter of the game.
Wolf's line? Seven innings, two runs, a walk, and six strikeouts. Of his 107 pitches, a stellar 74 were strikes. He came in as the guy with the most career regular season wins without having a postseason win, but that is no longer the case.
The Brewers didn't do any more damage at the plate, but they didn't need to. Setup man Francisco Rodriguez worked around a single in a scoreless eighth, and then Ron Roenicke went to closer John Axford in the ninth, with predictable results. By which I mean he did not blow the lead, or even come particularly close.
So behind Randy Wolf's brilliance, the Brewers have evened this series and guaranteed a trip back to Milwaukee. Before that, Friday's Game 5, which will pit Zack Greinke against Jaime Garcia. I'd say that looks like a pitchers' duel, but, who knows?