Thames shouldn’t have worried.
His two-out, two-strike liner in the top of the ninth inning Thursday night bounded off the top of the right field wall and over it for a tiebreaking two-run homer that gave the Milwaukee Brewers a 6-4 win over the St. Louis Cardinals at sold-out Busch Stadium.
It was the 18th homer for Thames and perhaps his most important of the year. Milwaukee (36-32) won three of four games in the series, posted a winning road trip at 4-3 and upped its National League Central lead on the Chicago Cubs to 2 1/2 games.
“A lot of people thought we’d be here for a week and then fall off,” said Thames, referring to first place. “But this is a whole new team. Guys feel the confidence, they feel the mojo. Everybody’s excited, so let’s keep this rolling.”
Aguilar started the rally with a one-out pinch-single off Seung Hwan Oh (1-3). After inducing a foulout from Eric Sogard, Oh quickly put Thames in an 0-2 hole.
But after fouling off one pitch, Thames managed to get on top of a high, outside fastball. Aguilar’s lack of speed meant he might not have scored had the ball been an inch lower. However, Thames’ rocket possessed just enough elevation.
“With the topspin on the ball, I thought there was no way it was getting out,” Thames said. “I tomahawked it.”
Brewers manager Craig Counsell discussed with bench coach Pat Murphy the possibility of running for Aguilar. Counsell was worried the decision to leave him at first might come back to haunt him when topspin started jerking Thames’ liner down.
“I said, ‘Oh, no,’ when he hit it,” Counsell said. “I was glad when it went over.”
Carlos Torres (3-4) worked a scoreless eighth inning for the win and Oliver Drake pitched a clean ninth for his first career save.
Milwaukee rested closer Corey Knebel and setup man Jacob Barnes after they pitched the last two nights. Jared Hughes was also unavailable after working in the series’ first three games.
Without that trio, the Brewers still got four hitless innings from rookie Josh Hader, Torres and Drake.
“They handled big innings in tight situations the whole way and did a nice job,” Counsell said.
Meanwhile, St. Louis (30-35) fell 4 1/2 games behind Milwaukee and settled for a 4-3 record during a seven-game homestand on which it started 4-0.
“They kept fighting to stay in this game,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “Oh’s been throwing well … that’s a tough way to lose it.”
St. Louis grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first inning with five hits. Stephen Piscotty singled home Matt Carpenter and Aledmys Diaz’s two-out infield single plated Piscotty.
Keon Broxton wiped out that lead with one powerful swing in the second. He destroyed a first-pitch offering from Michael Wacha, sending it an estimated 489 feet to left-center field for a two-run shot that was the longest homer in stadium history.
“I didn’t think I got it that good,” Broxton said. “It was just a nice, smooth swing and the ball hit the sweet spot.”
The teams traded runs in the third and fifth. Dexter Fowler answered RBI singles by Domingo Santana and Travis Shaw each time. Fowler homered on the first pitch of the bottom of the third, then singled home Carpenter in the fifth.
Neither starter was involved in the decision after getting cuffed around. Wacha lasted just four-plus innings, the fourth time in five starts he failed to make it through five innings. He allowed seven hits and four runs with three walks and five strikeouts.
Brewers right-hander Zach Davies gave up nine hits and four runs in five innings. He walked none and fanned one.
NOTES: St. Louis placed 2B Kolten Wong (right triceps strain) on the 10-day DL and recalled INF Paul DeJong from Triple-A Memphis. DeJong hit .244 in his first taste of the big leagues from May 28 to June 11 with a homer and four RBIs. … Milwaukee assigned RHP Rob Scahill to Triple-A Colorado Springs. The team designated Scahill for assignment before Tuesday’s doubleheader. … Brewers OF Ryan Braun (left calf strain) fielded fly balls during batting practice before the game, but there’s still no timetable for his return from the 10-day DL. Braun, who hit the DL on May 26, is batting .262 with seven homers and 19 RBIs in 30 games.