ST. LOUIS -- Matt Holliday may have provided the jolt with a 442-foot home run, but Brewers starter Matt Garza played a key supporting role in creating an opportunity for the Cardinals to steal a win in a key division showdown.
It was when Garza exited stage left that the Cardinals' offense finally appeared.
Forced out by a left oblique strain after twirling a one-hit shutout for six innings, Garza watched as the Cardinals warmly embraced the change in opposing pitcher. The Cardinals pounced on the bullpen to flip a two-run deficit into a 3-2 win, credited to John Lackey in his debut with the club. The victory, which came in front of 44,662 at Busch Stadium, pulls St. Louis to within one game of National League Central-leading Milwaukee.
"Anytime you can come back from that -- being shut down the whole game and rallying and guys coming through and keep battling -- those are some really good at-bats," said Trevor Rosenthal, who finished the series win with his Major League-leading 34th save. "It was pretty big."
The offense had all but succumbed to Garza, who had a no-hitter until Matt Adams doubled in the fifth inning. But with 71 pitches and a shutout in sight, he told his manager he couldn't go any further. He felt a grab on his left side on his second to last pitch.
"It was like, 'Son of a gun,'" Garza said. "You put a bullpen in that situation where everybody is caught off guard. Your starter has 70 pitches, nobody assumes he's coming out."
The Cardinals showed new life upon Garza's exit. They strung together five consecutive hits off relievers Zach Duke and Jeremy Jeffress, beginning with Holliday's solo home run. The homer, Holliday's sixth in 51 at-bats since the All-Star break, was his 13th hit in 27 career at-bats against Duke.
Adams and Jhonny Peralta followed with singles. A.J. Pierzynski added another, driving home Adams to tie the game and take his batterymate off the hook for the loss.
"We had one hit at the time, so we weren't really trying to do anything except get guys on base," Pierzynski said. "Matt hit the home run and then we just strung a bunch of singles together to kind of get us to a point where we were able to get a lead and then the bullpen did what they've done."
Oscar Taveras fell behind, 0-2, against Jeffress but worked the count even by taking two borderline pitches. Jeffress said afterward that he thought he had Taveras struck out on his 1-2 fastball.
"These umpires haven't seen me much, and my ball moves a lot," Jeffress said. "I made a good pitch."
Taveras connected on Jeffress' next fastball and dropped it into right for a go-ahead RBI single. He now has five RBIs in four games since the Cardinals' trade with Boston created everyday playing time for the rookie.
"In that count, I feel some pressure, but I didn't change my swing," Taveras said. "I knew in that moment I had to get a hit to score the run. He is a great pitcher, and I went looking for a fastball."
The timing of the string of hits made a winner out of Lackey, who carried the game through seven innings while pitching for the first time in eight days. Aramis Ramirez took a mistake fastball in the first to tag Lackey for a two-out run. In the second, Mark Reynolds tattooed a flat slider into the left field seats.
Lackey was otherwise stingy, allowing only four more hits, all singles.
"From the start, my arm felt good," Lackey said after earning his 150th career win. "I started locating some balls better as the game went on."
"You guys saw John Lackey today," added Pierzynski, behind the plate for 19 of Lackey's 22 starts this year. "I think the first couple innings he was really excited and then he really settled in and does what he does. He makes big pitches and gets guys out."
Lackey came to a crossroads in the seventh after allowing a pair of two-out singles to turn the Brewers' lineup over. At 100 pitches and with Seth Maness ready in the 'pen, Lackey took a visit from his new manager. But Mike Matheny left the mound alone, convinced that he'd be best served to leave the game in the veteran's hands.
"He wanted the ball, and I wanted him to have the ball," Matheny said. "We're going to need him to be one of our horses. Right there he still looked good, and I want that first game for him here in this uniform to be memorable."
Seven pitches later, Lackey induced the inning-ending popup to keep the deficit at two.
Pat Neshek and Rosenthal followed with scoreless innings to give the Cardinals their third series win in four series against the Brewers this season. Garza didn't mince his words afterward, noting that the Cardinals "dodged a bullet today."
The two division contenders will meet another seven times in September.
"It's not necessarily do or die," Holliday said. "But you've got to win games if you want to make the playoffs."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.