MILWAUKEE — The way thing are going for the Milwaukee Brewers right now, even Yadier Molina is a power hitter against them.
Molina hit two home runs and the Cardinals beat the Brewers 8-0 on Thursday, completing a three-game sweep and closing to within 2 1/2 games of the NL Central lead for the first time since April 20.
“I’m excited, because we want to have some of that contention fun over the last six weeks,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “And this gives us a better chance to have that fun.”
It was the first career multihomer game for Molina, who came into Thursday’s game with one home run this season. But afterward, the catcher preferred to talk about pitcher Adam Wainwright, whose seven scoreless innings of two-hit baseball included a baffling 3-2 curveball to Brewers rookie sensation Ryan Braun that ended a bases-loaded jam in the third inning.
“I’ve got confidence in him, because he’s got a good curveball, he can throw it for strikes,” Molina said. “You can see it, it’s obvious.”
It wasn’t so obvious to Braun, who thought he had seen ball four and turned to walk to first base before being called out — another misstep in a rough stretch for the sputtering Brewers.
The Cardinals outscored the Brewers 28-7 in the series, and Milwaukee now has lost 13 of its last 18 games. The Brewers remain in first place, but just by a half game after Chicago beat Cincinnati on Thursday.
“We still control our own destiny,” Brewers manager Ned Yost said. “We have to find a way to play better.”
Before the game, several Brewers players took turns giving each other crewcuts in an attempt to lighten the mood in the clubhouse. It changed their look but not their luck.
The Brew Crew was swept at home for the first time since Florida took three games at Miller Park last September. Milwaukee has been swept on the road twice this year, at San Diego in May and at Colorado last week.
Wainwright (11-9), in his first year as a starter after starring as a reliever during the Cardinals’ World Series run last year, struck out a career-high eight while walking three.
Wainwright’s biggest moment came in the third, after allowing a double to Gabe Gross and back-to-back walks to J.J. Hardy and Prince Fielder. With a 3-2 count on Braun, Wainwright threw a waist-high curveball. Braun, thinking he’d just watched ball four sail past, turned to jog toward first base — but instead was called out on strikes to end the inning.
“It was a big situation, I just didn’t want to give in,” Wainwright said. “He’s a guy that can really hurt you if you do, and I was fine with just trying to throw all pitchers’ pitchers to him right there — and one run is better than four. But I was confident that I was going to get him out.”
Wainwright also got two standout plays from Scott Rolen at third base, both at the expense of Milwaukee’s Bill Hall. Rolen made a full-extension diving grab of a hard-hit grounder and recovered to throw out Hall from a sitting position to end the second inning, then leapt to knock down a high chopper in the fourth and recovered in time to throw Hall out the end the first.
“Yeah, that was silly,” Wainwright said. “Both of them. But that first play, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a play in the infield as great as that.”
Ryan Franklin and Troy Percival finished off the four-hitter.
With two outs in the second inning, Molina drove a 2-2 pitch from Brewers starter Dave Bush (9-9) into the second deck in left field, putting the Cardinals ahead 1-0.
Molina homered again in his next at-bat, a two-run shot to left that put the Cardinals ahead 3-0 in the fourth. Molina came into Thursday’s game with 17 career home runs since entering the major leagues in June 2004.
The Cardinals added five runs in the ninth on David Eckstein’s three-run double, an RBI single by Albert Pujols and an error by outfielder Geoff Jenkins.
Bush gave up three runs and seven hits in seven innings, with a walk and four strikeouts — a pretty good outing, at least by the Brewers’ recent standards.
Milwaukee hasn’t had a starting pitcher record a victory in nearly two weeks, the last coming from rookie Yovani Gallardo against Philadelphia Aug. 3. In Milwaukee’s previous 10 games coming into Thursday, starters were 0-5 with an 8.49 ERA.
“It’s one of those times,” Bush said. “If one thing’s not wrong, it’s something else. That’s baseball. You go through periods like this. We’re in one. You have to find a way to scrap and claw and get out of it.”