MILWAUKEE (AP) - Rookie pitcher Johnny Hellweg endured an erratic start against the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals and needed key defensive plays and double-play ground balls to get through the fifth inning with the Milwaukee Brewers in the lead.
The Cardinals eventually won the game 7-6 on Carlos Beltran's sacrifice fly in the 10th inning Friday night to take a two-game lead in the National League Central, but Hellweg said he felt he gave his team ample opportunity to win the game.
``I wasn't very efficient, but I was effective enough to keep us there through five,' he said.
Hellweg spent most of the season at Triple-A Nashville, where he earned Pacific Coast League pitcher of the year honors. He got the Cardinals to hit into three double plays in his sixth start of the season at the major league level. Brewers' fielders also gunned out two runners attempting to take extra bases and Milwaukee held a 4-2 lead when Hellweg left the game after throwing 97 pitches.
Hellweg gave up seven hits and two runs while walking five and striking out one. He also hit a batter and threw a wild pitch.
Consistency will be crucial to Hellweg's future on the mound, Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy said.
``Our defense really helped him out, but he made some really big pitches. We've just got to get him more consistent and throwing strikes,' Lucroy added. ``He gave us a good chance to win.'
Aramis Ramirez, who belted a three-run homer in the first inning, paid a visit to the mound in the fifth with Hellweg struggling to get out of the inning.
``He just told me to trust my stuff. That gave me a boost of energy and I made the pitch and ended up getting the double play. That was huge,' Hellweg said.
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke knew Hellweg had a tall task against the Cardinals.
``He faced a really good lineup. He got ground balls when he needed them and got double plays,' Roenicke said.
The Cardinals jumped on Hellweg for a run in the first inning on Matt Holliday's single. Ramirez hit a three-run home run with one out in the Brewers' half of the first off Shelby Miller, who entered the game having given up just three earned runs over 25 innings in four previous starts against the Brewers this season.
``It was a hanging breaking ball that didn't finish,' Miller said.
Miller surrendered seven hits and four runs in six innings. He walked two and struck out four.
Holliday's run-scoring single in the fifth cut the Brewers' lead to 3-2. Ramirez's sacrifice fly in the Brewers' half of the frame allowed Milwaukee to regain a two-run lead.
Matt Carpenter and Carlos Beltran connected for back-to-back doubles in the seventh to cut the lead to 4-3. Matt Adams' run-scoring single tied the game.
The Brewers had a chance to regain the lead in their half of the seventh, but Beltran threw out Norichika Aoki at the plate as he tried to score from second on a single by Ramirez.
Adams smacked a towering two-run, ninth-inning home run off Brewers' closer Jim Henderson to give the Cardinals a 6-4 lead, but the Brewers rallied for two runs in the bottom of the frame to tie the game.
Former Milwaukee closer John Axford (7-7), acquired by St. Louis last month, picked up the win. Carlos Martinez got his first save of the year for the Cardinals.
``Coming back here to Miller Park, I was definitely nervous in the pen, but when I was out there on the mound I was calm,' Axford said. ``We needed that win.'
Axford came on in relief of closer Edward Mujica, whom the Brewers tagged for three hits and two runs in one-third of an inning.
Michael Blazek (0-1), whom the Brewers received in the deal for Axford, took the loss. Beltran's fly ball to deep right field off Blazek scored Kolten Wong, who led off the 10th with a walk.
Aoki had four hits, a walk and scored three runs for the Brewers.
NOTES: The Cardinals ran their record to 7-1 at Miller Park this season and 13-4 overall against the Brewers. ... Miller became the first St. Louis rookie pitcher to start 30 games in a season since Rick Ankiel in 2000. ... With four strikeouts, Miller passed Harvey Haddix for third place on St. Louis' rookie strikeout list with 166. ... St. Louis wraps up its final regular-season road trip with the three-game series in Milwaukee.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved