ST. LOUIS — When rosters expand in September, National League managers don't have to save their backup catchers.
"Just taking it as it comes," Cruz said after getting the winning hit in the 13th inning in the Cardinals' 3-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday night that moved St. Louis closer to its second straight NL Central title. "Any way you can contribute is huge."
The defending National League champions took two of three in a tight series that featured only 12 runs and another game that lasted 12 innings. The Cardinals lead the division by 2 1/2 games with nine games to go. They will begin their final home series of the season on Friday with the first of three games against Cincinnati.
"It's huge," Cruz said. "You don't want to scoreboard-watch but it goes on, especially this time of the year. We know what's at stake."
Aramis Ramirez and Scooter Gennett both had an RBI for the Brewers, who are five games back and 3 1/2 out for the second NL wild card. Jonathan Lucroy's 45th double as a catcher tied the major league record for the position, set by Ivan Rodriguez in 1996, and was his major league-leading 52nd overall.
Cruz singled up the middle with one out for the third hit of the 13th against Jimmy Nelson (2-8), scoring Matt Adams from second.
Four straight St. Louis hitters reached against Jonathan Broxton with two outs in the eighth to tie it, resulting in the seventh blown save in Kyle Lohse's starts.
Jon Jay had an RBI single, and Adams drew his second bases-loaded walk of the series to make it 2-2 after Matt Holliday kept the inning alive with a headfirst dive into first for an infield hit. That call was overturned after the Cardinals asked for a replay review.
"I don't think many of us are a big fan of that 'diving into first base' trick," manager Mike Matheny said. "Apparently, it worked."
Earlier in the eighth, Brewers first baseman Mark Reynolds thought there were two outs instead of one and didn't try for a double play on pinch hitter A.J. Pierzynski's groundout. He just stepped on the bag instead.
"Mistakes like that can't happen, obviously, especially in this point in the season," Reynolds said. "Everyone had their hands on their heads.
"It was an easy double-play ball, especially with Pierzynski running."
The Brewers left two on in the 10th against Pat Neshek and loaded the bases with two outs in the 11th against Carlos Martinez, who escaped by striking out Carlos Gomez. He then fanned Ryan Braun with a man on second to end the 12th.
Sam Freeman (2-0) had two strikeouts in a perfect 13th — the most innings in a Cardinals game.
Ramirez had two hits and has two homers and 10 RBIs against St. Louis this year.
Shelby Miller retired the first 11 before surrendering three straight two-out hits in the fourth, a rally started by Lucroy's double. Miller has allowed two earned runs in 26 innings this month, and St. Louis starters have given up one earned run or fewer in seven straight starts.
Brewers starters have a 1.74 ERA in the last eight games. Cardinals leadoff man Matt Carpenter is 1 for 16 against Lohse.
Cardinals: Matheny feels no urgency to get another look at Justin Masterson, banished to the bullpen with a 7.53 ERA and limited to 1 1-3 innings since Aug. 30.
Brewers: Yovani Gallardo (8-10, 3.59) gets the call in the opener of a three-game series at Pittsburgh. He is 0-4 with a 5.25 ERA in his last five starts. The Brewers are 11-5 against the Pirates this year and 87-41 since 2007.
Cardinals: John Lackey makes his first start in nine days after getting skipped for the Milwaukee series. He is 2-2 with a 5.05 ERA for St. Louis and 11-7 with a 3.60 ERA overall.
Both teams failed to get a bunt down late. Pinch-hitter Peter Bourjos fouled off two attempts, the last resulting in a strikeout in the ninth. Carlos Gomez fouled out to Cruz in the 10th.
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