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ST. LOUIS -- John Axford's 48th consecutive save was a strange one. The game ended with a strike-'em-out, throw-'em-out - at the plate.
Axford got a big assist from his fielders, who foiled a double steal while finishing a 3-2 victory Sunday that avoided a three-game sweep.
"I guess it was a best-case scenario," Axford said. "Luckily, it just kind of worked out."
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Matt Holliday walked to start the ninth and pinch runner Tyler Greene went to third on a single by Carlos Beltran before Axford, who passed Brad Lidge for the fourth-longest streak in major league history, shut the door.
After Axford struck out David Freese on a full count, the Cardinals tried to steal a run when Yadier Molina struck out on a high delivery, with Beltran breaking for second and Greene ready to head home if there was a throw.
When catcher Jonathan Lucroy double-pumped on his throw to second it threw off Greene's timing. Beltran, meanwhile, stopped early because he thought he'd be a certain out, leaving Greene an easy out on a relay from shortstop Alex Gonzalez.
"I don't know what they were doing or what was going on, but it ended up working out for us," Lucroy said. "It was a weird play."
Greene didn't come close to touching the bag on a hook slide.
"Beltran was stealing and if he threw down I was going to try to take off for home," Greene said. "He almost pump-faked, so that kind of changed things a little bit."
It was the final failure in the clutch for the Cardinals, who were 2 for 14 with runners in scoring position and stranded 13 runners.
"I'll just say that that play didn't go as planned," manager Mike Matheny said.
Zack Greinke worked six strong innings and Lucroy's two-run double capped a three-run sixth for the Brewers.
Greinke (3-1) allowed a run on seven hits to help stop the Brewers' six-game road losing streak. He's 2-1 with a 2.11 ERA in four career games in St. Louis. He pitched a lot better than in his only other road start this year, when he surrendered eight runs in 3 2/3 innings at Chicago on April 12.
The Cardinals had at least two baserunners in four of Greinke's innings, but the right-hander got the big outs.
"That's not really the way Zack pitches but I thought he battled great," manager Ron Roenicke said. "I don't know if he's trying to be perfect at times, but sometimes that gets him in trouble."
Jaime Garcia (2-1) fell to 17-10 at home with a 2.38 ERA and all three of his shutouts, and 12-7 with 4.15 ERA on the road.
Axford is 5 for 5 this year and last blew a save on April 18, 2011, at Philadelphia. He's well aware of the streak.
"It's nice to do 48," Axford said. "The streak is great, it's great individually, but it's more on the team side. Obviously, if I don't get the save we're not going to get the win so I'd rather lock it down and get the win for the team."
St. Louis missed a chance to make it 2-0 in the fifth when, with one out, Garcia broke for home from third on Matt Holliday's routine flyout to medium center, a certain sacrifice fly if he'd have tagged up.
"Yeah, that was terrible baserunning," Garcia said. "It's the first time it's ever happened to me. I'll learn from that."
The Brewers took the lead with a four-hit, three-run sixth. Aramis Ramirez had an RBI single to tie it and Lucroy, who had been 3 for 17 with runners in scoring position on the year, made it a two-run cushion with a drive off the left-field wall.
Lucroy thought the Cardinals were going to walk him so Garcia could face Travis Ishikawa in a lefty-lefty matchup, especially after Molina visited the mound.
"That's what I would do, too," Lucroy said. "He just made a mistake."
Matheny showed faith in Garcia when he pulled back a pinch hitter with two outs and one on in the sixth, and Garcia singled for the second straight at-bat. Rafael Furcal flied out to end the threat.
Garcia had a season-high six strikeouts in seven innings, his third straight start of seven innings or more.
Kameron Loe got Molina, who had six straight hits after singling in the second and had been 7 for 11 in the series, on a groundout with two on to end the seventh. The Cardinals cut the gap to a run when Matt Carpenter doubled off Francisco Rodriguez to start the eighth and scored on pinch hitter Daniel Descalso's groundout.
|Zack Greinke works six strong innings, paving the way for closer John Axford to earn his 48th straight save. (US Presswire)|
|Players of the Game|
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|Rickie Weeks, 2B||3||0||0||0||1||1||3||.193|
|Carlos Gomez, CF||4||1||1||0||0||0||3||.318|
|Ryan Braun, LF||4||0||1||0||0||0||2||.263|
|Aramis Ramirez, 3B||4||1||1||1||0||1||2||.228|
|Corey Hart, RF||4||1||1||0||0||2||0||.286|
|Alex Gonzalez, SS||4||0||0||0||0||0||0||.254|
|Jonathan Lucroy, C||4||0||2||2||0||2||0||.283|
|Travis Ishikawa, 1B||4||0||1||0||0||1||1||.208|
|Zack Greinke, P||2||0||1||0||0||0||2||.222|
|a- Aoki Norichika, PH||1||0||1||0||0||0||0||.304|
|Jose Veras, P||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000|
|Kameron Loe, P||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000|
|Francisco Rodriguez, P||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000|
|b- Cesar Izturis, PH||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||.176|
|John Axford, P||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000|
|a-singled for Greinke in the 7th|
|b-flied out for Rodriguez in the 9th|
|2B - Jonathan Lucroy (2, Garcia)|
|RBI - Aramis Ramirez (10), Jonathan Lucroy 2 (8)|
|2-OUT RBI - Jonathan Lucroy 2 (6)|
|SB - Rickie Weeks (2, 2nd base off Garcia/Molina)|
|Team LOB - 6|
|DP - Lucroy-Weeks, Lucroy-A. Gonzalez|
|Zack Greinke (W,3-1)||6||7||1||1||4||2||0||3.94|
|Jose Veras (H,2)||0.2||1||0||0||1||1||0||6.30|
|Kameron Loe (H,1)||0.1||0||0||0||0||0||0||3.00|
|Francisco Rodriguez (H,4)||1||2||1||1||0||0||0||6.10|
|John Axford (S,5)||1||1||0||0||1||2||0||4.70|
|Pitches-Strikes - Zack Greinke 99-56, Jose Veras 15-9, Kameron Loe 6-3, Francisco Rodriguez 17-11, John Axford 17-10|
|Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Zack Greinke 6-9, Kameron Loe 1-0, Francisco Rodriguez 3-0|
|Batters Faced - Zack Greinke 28, Jose Veras 4, Kameron Loe 1, Francisco Rodriguez 5, John Axford 4|
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|Rafael Furcal, SS||5||0||2||1||0||0||3||.315|
|Jon Jay, CF||3||0||1||0||1||0||3||.400|
|Matt Holliday, LF||3||0||0||0||2||0||4||.215|
|Tyler Greene, PR||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.200|
|Carlos Beltran, RF||3||0||1||0||2||1||2||.256|
|David Freese, 3B||5||0||1||0||0||3||8||.333|
|Yadier Molina, C||5||0||1||0||0||1||4||.316|
|Matt Carpenter, 1B||4||1||2||0||0||0||1||.267|
|Skip Schumaker, 2B||3||1||1||0||1||0||1||.368|
|Jaime Garcia, P||3||0||2||0||0||0||2||.333|
|Kyle McClellan, P||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000|
|a- Daniel Descalso, PH||1||0||0||1||0||0||0||.200|
|Marc Rzepczynski, P||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||.000|
|a-hit into fielder's choice for McClellan in the 8th|
|2B - Matt Carpenter (5, Rodriguez)|
|SH - Jon Jay (1)|
|RBI - Rafael Furcal (9), Daniel Descalso (4)|
|2-OUT RBI - Rafael Furcal (5)|
|CS - Matt Holliday (1, 2nd base by Greinke/Lucroy), Tyler Greene (1, Home by Axford/Lucroy)|
|Team LOB - 13|
|DP - Furcal-Schumaker-M. Carpenter|
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|Jaime Garcia (L,2-1)||7||9||3||3||1||6||0||2.78|
|Pitches-Strikes - Jaime Garcia 98-63, Kyle McClellan 7-7, Marc Rzepczynski 6-6|
|Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Jaime Garcia 8-6, Kyle McClellan 2-1, Marc Rzepczynski 1-1|
|Batters Faced - Jaime Garcia 30, Kyle McClellan 3, Marc Rzepczynski 3|
|Attendance - 45824|
|Game Time - 2:52|
|Temperature - 57|
|Umpires - Home - Derryl Cousins, First Base - Al Porter, Second Base - Ron Kulpa, Third Base - Lance Barksdale|