Hoffman struck out Brendan Ryan with the bases loaded for his 598th save and the Milwaukee Brewers beat the slumping St. Louis Cardinals 3-2 on Wednesday, handing 17-game winner Adam Wainwright his first home loss of the season.
Hoffman, baseball's career saves leader, has two saves this month as the Brewers' backup option behind Axford. Prior to that, his last save was May 7.
"I was excited for that right away," Axford said after a couple of fielding miscues led to him being pulled with two down. "I came in upset and right away I let it go.
"Hoffy's out there and we're cheering him on."
Wolf pitched three-hit ball into the ninth inning and rookie Lorenzo Cain had two hits, scored twice and drove in a run. He also had a key steal to set up Milwaukee's first run in the fifth.
Hoffman, 42, needed just three pitches to retire Ryan after the Cardinals pushed across a pair of runs in the ninth.
After sweeping the mini two-game series, the Brewers are 18-9 at Busch Stadium the last three seasons. The Cardinals have lost four straight to drop out of the top spot in the NL Central.
"What you're geared to do offensively is find something you can do something with and make something happen," manager Tony La Russa said. "That's our challenge and we haven't done it the last couple of days."
Wolf was happy to outpitch Wainwright, who he said was "probably the front-runner right now for the Cy Young" Award.
"I joked before the game that if I throw a shutout, at least I guaranteed a no-decision," Wolf said. "It's exciting to go against a pitcher like this, a team like that."
Wainwright (17-7) gave up three runs and seven hits in seven innings, but missed a chance to become the majors' first 18-game winner. He allowed multiple runs for the first time in four starts when the Brewers scored twice in the seventh for a 3-0 lead.
Wainwright entered on a bit of a roll, with a 3-0 mark and a sparkling 0.39 ERA over his previous three outings. The right-hander dropped to 11-1 with a 1.42 ERA in 13 home starts this season.
"You can't win every one forever, but he certainly did his part," La Russa said. "He competed like a maniac. They beat a really, really good pitcher."
Wolf (10-9) allowed only two harmless singles -- one by Wainwright -- and was on the verge of his first complete game in nearly two seasons before he was removed after Albert Pujols' one-out double in the ninth. Axford surrendered an RBI double to Matt Holliday and a second run scored when first baseman Prince Fielder botched Aaron Miles' grounder.
"I didn't read the spin on it too good," Fielder said.
Earlier in the inning, Fielder hurt his wrist on a tag play. He told manager Ken Macha he was fine, but Macha said, "Let's see. With Prince you never know. Hopefully he ices it up."
Both of the doubles were to left, and Ryan Braun appeared to have a chance at snaring both. After Axford walked pinch-hitter Colby Rasmus on four pitches, Hoffman earned his seventh save in 12 opportunities.
"You've got to get 27 outs," Macha said. "Sometimes the last three are the toughest."
Before the ninth, the Cardinals had put only one runner in scoring position.
Wainwright had been 2-0 with an 0.50 ERA and two complete games against the Brewers this season, including his first career shutout. Despite the setback, the right-hander extended his major league record with a 28th consecutive quality start at home.
The Cardinals have been one of the NL's best home teams up to this point, but fell to 39-22.
Cain's speed helped the Brewers take the lead. He led off the fifth with a double and stole third with one out. He then scored when Wainwright tried to shovel George Kottaras' RBI dribbler to catcher Yadier Molina and ended up with no play.
Cain hit a run-scoring triple in the seventh and scored on Alcides Escobar's sacrifice fly.
The Cardinals began the day two games behind the Reds in the NL Central, and with several hitters slumping. Leadoff man Felipe Lopez is 4 for 41, No. 2 hitter Jon Jay struck out for the fifth straight time in the fourth, Holliday is 2 for 15 and Molina is 1 for 13. Allen Craig had been 0 for 14 with five strikeouts before getting a bloop hit in the fifth.
- Molina made his 21st consecutive start at catcher. Backup Jason LaRue is on the DL with a concussion from the Reds fracas last week and the team swapped rookie subs, recalling Bryan Anderson from Triple-A Memphis and sending Steven Hill down.
- Two days after signing near the deadline, Cardinals first-round draft pick Zack Cox was on the field for pregame drills. Cox is headed for the minors.
- The Brewers have played five straight one-run games, going 3-2.
- SS Escobar left due to cramping with two outs in the ninth and was replaced by Craig Counsell. He said he was fine after the game.