On Friday, it didn't matter. And instead of a fourth straight loss, a sick infielder and a resurgent bullpen rescued the ailing Cardinals and their starting pitcher.
The Cardinals took advantage of a big fourth inning, scoring six runs on only two hits, to defeat the Brewers, 10-6, at Miller Park in front of 24,490 fans.
This game started with all of the familiar symptoms of St. Louis' recent woes. The Redbirds' first four outs were strikeouts, and starter Mark Mulder struggled from the outset, surrendering six runs in the first two innings.
"Being down six, you're not going to win that game very often," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.
Then the fourth inning brought the cure for the Cardinals' losing streak and, coupled with the Reds' loss to the Cubs, ended up propelling them back into first place in the National League Central.
The inning started with Brewers starter Jorge De La Rosa walking the bases loaded. With Mulder's spot in the order due up, La Russa pulled the pitcher and had pinch-hitter Chris Duncan face reliever Joe Winklesas (0-1).
Duncan struck out. Then, St. Louis struck back, scoring three runs with the next four batters. With the bases loaded again and the Cardinals' deficit down to one run, Scott Spiezio cleared the bases with a double to give them the lead.
"We're tough enough between the ears that we're going to play nine come hell or high water," La Russa said. "It was one of our better wins."
Tough was the word of the night, especially for Spiezio.
He made his first start since returning from an upper respiratory infection that had sidelined him for seven games. He started at first base for Jim Edmonds, who is still nursing a strained abdominal wall.
It's been a harrowing couple of weeks for the veteran utilityman Spiezio, who said before the game that he has lost at least 11 pounds since falling ill near the end of May. Spiezio has been getting better in short increments, but played Friday on almost no sleep.
Spiezio was doubled over, out of breath and unable to stop coughing on second base after the clutch double. He was pulled for Duncan in the bottom of the fourth.
After the game, Spiezio was one of the last players to his locker. He moved slowly and took his time to dress and then find the words to describe his night.
"I'm still messed up," Spiezio said. "But you can always find something from somewhere, and I was determined to get in there and try and do something positive."
Spiezio's performance rubbed off on the rest of the team, as relievers Josh Hancock (2-2), Tyler Johnson, Brad Thompson, Randy Flores and Jason Isringhausen combined to shut out the Brewers in six innings of relief. Isringhausen picked up his 19th save of the season.
The bullpen's performance was an impressive feat at Miller Park, where 17 of the Brewers' 20 home wins have been of the come-from-behind variety.
"They've got a terrific history of scoring a lot of runs in the last third of the game," La Russa said. "So to shut them down like that, I mean, each guy came in and threw the ball very well."
The bullpen stopped the bleeding, something the group has been forced to try to do in Mulder's last three starts. While Mulder was happy the team got the win, he said he was still unhappy with his three-inning outing.
"It doesn't change anything, but it's nice to get a win, especially after the last homestand, where we struggled," Mulder said.
The bullpen's performance was especially encouraging for Hancock after the team's struggles against Cincinnati, in which the relievers combined to give up 11 earned runs in 10 2/3 innings.
"Lately things haven't been going well, and it was nice to go back out there and feel like things were back in place," Hancock said.
John Sahly is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less