ST. LOUIS — OK, Milwaukee Brewers fans, raise your hands if you thought Randy Wolf was going to save your team’s postseason hopes.
But darned if that isn’t what happened Thursday night as Wolf contained the St. Louis Cardinals for seven innings to lead the Brewers to a 4-2 victory in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium.
The victory assures the Brewers of a return to Miller Park, where they compiled the best home record of any team in the majors during the regular season.
For that they can largely thank Wolf, who was coming off one of the worst outings of his career in a loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL Division Series. But Thursday, he kept the Cardinals off balance most of the night with his array of pitches.
“Wolfy did a great job,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “We needed it and he came through big.”
Wolf was determined to do just that after feeling he let his teammates down with his performance in Arizona, when he gave up seven runs in just three innings.
“I’ll be honest with you, the day after the Diamondbacks start I didn’t eat or shower that day,” Wolf said. “I don’t know if they call that depression, but it was tough to swallow.”
The biggest difference for Wolf was his control. Against Arizona, he threw just 41 of 81 pitches for strikes, while 74 of his 107 pitches against the Cardinals were strikes.
“It’s impossible to be successful when you’re throwing 50 percent strikes,” Wolf said. “So the main thing I wanted to do was get ahead and throw strikes and move the ball in and out and use all my pitches.”
St. Louis manager Tony La Russa was impressed with Wolf’s performance.
“He’s a pitcher,” La Russa said. “He’s got a real good idea. He moves in and out, up and down, changes speed. He got a lot of outs on curveballs, probably the biggest thing he had working.”
The St. Louis offense consisted of solo home runs by Matt Holliday in the second inning and Allen Craig in the third.
The Brewers evened it up with two runs in the fourth off St. Louis starter Kyle Lohse.
Prince Fielder led off with a double to right-center and scored on a one-out double down the left field line by Jerry Hairston. Yuniesky Betancourt then singled to center to bring home Hairston, who slid behind catcher Yadier Molina and just caught the plate with his left hand.
Hairston said he knew the play was going to be close because Betancourt hit the ball so hard.
“I knew Yadi was getting ready to receive the throw and I saw a little bit of an opening and I was just able to get in under the tag,” Hairston said. “I’m not the biggest guy out there, so usually running over a catcher is not an option. So I’d better learn to slide.”
The Brewers took the lead with a run in the fifth. Nyjer Morgan led off with a double that kicked up dust on the left-field foul line. He advanced to third on a grounder to second by Mark Kotsay.
That was the end of the night for Lohse, who was relieved by Mitchell Boggs. But unlike the previous night when the Brewers went 0-for-12 against the Cardinals bullpen, Ryan Braun greeted the hard-throwing Boggs with a sharp single to left to drive in Morgan with what proved to be the decisive run.
“Their bullpen has been phenomenal,” Braun said. “I think Boggs is the type of guy who has overpowering stuff, so it’s an opportunity to get either a strikeout or a pop-up, which is what they’re looking for in that situation.
“I tried to shorten my swing up and make sure I was able to put the ball in play.”
Boggs then got out of the inning with the help of a nice play by second baseman Ryan Theriot, who turned a smash by Fielder into a double play.
Theriot, however, wasn’t as sure-handed in the sixth, and the Brewers tacked on a run as a result. Rickie Weeks led off with a single to center and went to third on a double by Hairston, who successfully challenged the throwing arm of Holliday in left field.
Betancourt was unable to get the runners home as he grounded out to shortstop. La Russa then brought in left-hander Arthur Rhodes to face the left-handed hitting George Kottaras. Kottaras hit a chopper toward Theriot, who fumbled the ball for an error as Weeks raced home to stretch the lead to 4-2.
The Cardinals bullpen shut down the Brewers the rest of the way, but it was a moot point, thanks to Wolf and the Brewers 1-2 bullpen punch of Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford.
Rodriguez pitched a scoreless eighth inning, while Axford retired the side in the ninth for the save.