Best move is no moves at all in Brewers' sixth

Best move is no moves at all in Brewers' sixth

Best move is no moves at all in Brewers' sixth
ST. LOUIS -- Many sides of the pinch-hit-or-not debate raced through Brewers manager Ron Roenicke's mind with two on and a one-run lead during Thursday night's top of the sixth inning.

But Brewers pitcher Randy Wolf, whose effectiveness made Roenicke's choice the right one, was so deep into pitching ultimately his most important career outing -- seven innings to beat the Cardinals, 4-2, to even the National League Championship Series after four games -- he was oblivious to his skipper's strategic options.

"To be 100 percent honest with you, I don't even remember that situation," Wolf said. "All I thought about was going back out there and pitching, and I was going to go out there until Ron took the ball away from me."

Outside of two opposite-field home runs, when the ball was carrying to right like few had seen at Busch Stadium, Wolf was repeatedly thwarting the dangerous Cards. Wolf finished with six strikeouts, and although he gave up seven hits, most of the time, he saved his best pitching for when runners were on base.

Before Wolf's effort, no starter in the NLCS had lasted beyond five innings. But Milwaukee entered the sixth with a 3-2 lead, and Roenicke was tempted to make moves at the bottom of the order to push for more runs. The wheels turned furiously when Rickie Weeks singled and Jerry Hairston Jr. doubled to put runners at second and third against St. Louis reliever Mitchell Boggs to open the sixth.

There was no consideration to remove No. 7 hitter Yuniesky Betancourt, who had driven in a run earlier with a single. But when Betancourt grounded out and the runners didn't advance, Roenicke was faced with the decision whether to replace No. 8 hitter George Kottaras, Wolf or even leadoff hitter Nyjer Morgan.

All the way to decision time, Roenicke admitted leaning toward going with stronger offensive options.

"There was a lot going on there," Roenicke said. "We decided that if we had a great opportunity with Wolf's spot, we would probably hit for him."

But the idea was never implemented. Here's how the inning unfolded:

• The Cards went to left-hander Arthur Rhodes to face the left-handed-hitting Kottaras, the starting catcher. Roenicke could have gone with righty-swinging catcher Jonathan Lucroy. That move would have all but guaranteed Wolf's removal with Milwaukee pinch-hitting right-handed-hitting Corey Hart. Kottaras has caught Wolf 22 times this season, to Lucroy's three, and Roenicke saw no reason to disrupt that.

• Had Roenicke gone with Lucroy and Hart, there likely would have been another decision. Cards manager Tony La Russa would likely have walked Hart, Roenicke said, which would have given Rhodes a lefty-on-lefty matchup with Morgan. Had Roenicke switched to a right-handed option, such as Casey McGehee, St. Louis had righty Octavio Dotel warming up.

• The non-moves meant the Brewers were going to protect, rather than build.

Defensive replacements Carlos Gomez in center field and Craig Counsell at second base entered in the bottom of the seventh.

Roenicke also had his entire bullpen available for two innings. Francisco Rodriguez threw a perfect eighth. John Axford gave up a hit in the ninth before inducing a grounder from Rafael Furcal to complete his second save of the series. And Roenicke was able to use Lucroy to catch the relievers.

"I don't know why we decided to leave it as is," Roenicke said. "We were already up one run, which had a lot to do with it."

Even without going to the offensive options, the Brewers managed a run in the sixth inning. Kottaras knocked a slow roller that Cardinals second baseman Ryan Theriot fumbled for an error, and Hairston scored. Wolf dropped a sacrifice bunt, but Morgan struck out. It turned out Milwaukee didn't need any more runs.

Seeing Wolf continue lifted the Brewers.

"It was huge," Kottaras said. "He was pitching great all night."

"He didn't get rattled," Hairston said. "He kept us in there and we were able to fight and fight back and get a win."

Wolf admitted smarting over a bad outing while losing Game 4 of the NL Division Series against the D-backs (seven runs, eight hits in three innings), so much so that he admitted Thursday, "I didn't eat or shower" the following day. He made up for that, as well as an 0-1 record and 9.00 ERA in three previous playoff starts, by showcasing the form Thursday that helped him go a solid 13-10 with a 3.69 ERA in 33 regular-season starts.

"He gives you a few quality outings, which he did all season for us," Axford said. "Once in a while a bad one might jump in there, but Randy's a professional. He can forget about that so easily."

After coming through Thursday -- especially with his manager trusting him to pitch one inning longer than planned -- Wolf left with a feeling of accomplishment that no one can wash away.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.