MILWAUKEE -- Time is running out on the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Brewers wasted a chance to cut their NL Central deficit to one game, giving up a first-inning home run to Albert Pujols in a testy 7-3 loss Wednesday night to the St. Louis Cardinals that saw two more hit batters and a pair of ejections.
"We're in a situation where we no longer control our own destiny, so we pretty much are in a must-win every day," said Ryan Braun, who drove in all three of Milwaukee's runs.
Chicago maintained a two-game division lead with four games to play despite a 7-4 loss at the Florida Marlins. Milwaukee starts a season-ending four-game series Thursday at home against San Diego.
Thursday's scheduled starter, 21-year-old Yovani Gallardo, said that will be the most important outing of his life.
"They're all important now," he said.
Reliever Brian Shouse, who came in after Chicago's game had been decided, allowed three inherited runner to score.
"Any time you can see that the Cubs already lost, the game was right there within our reach," Shouse said. "For this to happen, it was very disappointing."
A night after Jeff Suppan threw a high, inside pitch at Pujols, causing St. Louis manager Tony La Russa and Brewers manager Ned Yost to exchange heated words, there was more inside pitching.
Both benches were warned about throwing at each other in the second inning after Brad Thompson (8-6) plunked Prince Fielder on the right shoulder with a high fastball. Fielder got up and stared at the Cardinals dugout while plate umpire Tom Hallion walked him all the way down to first before issuing his warnings.
"I was just trying to throw the ball in to him," Thompson said. "I wasn't trying to hit him."
In the eighth, Pujols was plunked on the elbow by Brewers reliever Seth McClung, who was ejected along with Yost. The Cardinals went on to score four runs with two outs.
"It's not the first guy I've hit, not the first walk. Why do you think Tampa traded me?" McClung said. "It happens sometimes with me. The ball just gets out of my hand and flies away."
La Russa was also diplomatic.
"That wasn't intentional," he said. "They were down by one run. It's not a good time to do that."
Pujols' home run, which gave him 100 RBI for the seventh consecutive season, set an early tone. He maintained he wasn't motivated by the previous night's events.
"That wasn't even on my mind," he said. "I knew it slipped away from him."
Villanueva never looked comfortable in six innings, allowing three runs, five hits and four walks.
Pujols, recovering from a strained left calf muscle, hit his 32nd home run and became the first player to reach 30 home runs and 100 RBI in seven consecutive seasons at the start of his career.
Milwaukee used five relievers in the eighth as the game, and perhaps the season, slipped away.
Milwaukee had its chances early. The Brewers loaded the bases in the second before Corey Hart's inning-ending flyout.
With two on and no outs in the third, Damian Miller grounded into a double play and Villanueva struck out. With two out and two outs in the fourth, Hart fouled out to the catcher.
Thompson, trying to solidify a spot in the 2008 rotation, allowed two unearned runs and five hits in six innings, retiring his final seven batters. The runs were unearned because of a throwing error by Stinnett on Villaneuva's sacrifice in front of the plate.
"This time of year, they're ticking off. But we still have four games left," Yost said. "We had opportunities to score offensively, and we couldn't get a big hit with two outs."
- Pujols has 282 home runs and 858 RBI along with a .331 career batting average.
- Ted Williams was the last player to hit at least 100 RBI in each of his first seven seasons, doing so from 1939-49, not counting his war service years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
- A day after saying C Johnny Estrada (torn meniscus) would be available to pinch hit, Yost said it was wishful thinking.
- The Cardinals won the season series 8-7.