Cardinals-Brewers rivalry suddenly hotter

    "People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring."

    --Rogers Hornsby

Last night was one of those evenings that makes you dread the winter with no baseball, no box scores, no highlights, no flipping through the TV and MLB.TV, soaking in all the excitement and drama of this sport that invades our minds for seven months.

The Indians and Red Sox played a tense game that Boston won 3-2 with a run in the bottom of the ninth -- a big win for the Red Sox, but a bigger defeat for the Indians, a team you feel is playing on life support with every contest. In a battle of division leaders, the Tigers beat the Rangers 6-5, as Brennan Boesch homered in the bottom of the eighth off Mike Adams, the Rangers' new stellar setup reliever. The Diamondbacks moved into a first-place tie, Kyle Kendrick was masterful and the Pirates suffered another painful loss.

But the game of the night was St. Louis at Milwaukee. Miller Park was nearly full with 39,000-plus Brewers fans, the majors' smallest market nearly selling out on a Tuesday night, the kind of positive attendance story that nobody bothers to mention. The Brewers seem unbeatable at home, an edge that reminds me of the Twins in the old Metrodome days with Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek and Homer Hankie-waving Minnesotans yelling themselves crazy. At home, the Brewers are the best team in baseball. They entered Tuesday's game with a seven-game winning streak and the chance to put another game between them and the second-place Cardinals.

All this game featured was:

  • Cardinals pitcher Jaime Garcia hitting a three-run homer off Shaun Marcum.

  • Albert Pujols getting hit by a pitch and the Cardinals retaliating in typical Tony La Russa fashion by hitting Ryan Braun.

  • Yadier Molina going crazy and getting ejected after being called out on strikes, a display that will likely and deservedly draw a suspension after he bumped ump Rob Drake and sent spittle into his face.

  • Rafael Furcal's spectacular game-saving catch on a blooper in the bottom of the ninth.

  • The winning rally starting when Matt Holliday beat out an infield grounder with two outs.

And those were just the big highlights. Molina's spittle may have been unintentional, but his outburst was unprofessional and considering it happened in the 10th inning of a crucial game for his club, an alarming brain lock and lack of discipline for a veteran player.

As for the Cardinals going after Braun, it's typical La Russa. His guy gets hit -- La Russa even said he thought it was unintentional -- so he then intentionally hits your guy. This stuff seems to happen much more often with the Cardinals, doesn't it? I can't fault La Russa for wanting to protect his star, but his eye-for-an-eye behavior isn't going to stop teams from pitching inside to Pujols. La Russa knows that's part of the game, and his insistence on retaliation has become a tiresome and dangerous tactic.

But it makes for interesting baseball, issues to debate, and yet another club and fan base that finds the Cardinals rather loathsome. (Cincinnati welcomes you to the club, Milwaukee.)

La Russa does deserve credit for what I think was the key move of the game: He got two innings out of his closer, Fernando Salas, while Ron Roenicke used Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford for just one inning each. (K-Rod, in typical K-Rod fashion, threw 29 pitches in his one inning.) The game did mean more for the Cardinals, but most managers stick to an unwritten rule that you can't, under any circumstances, ever use your closer for more than one inning just in case you need him tomorrow, so kudos to La Russa. As a result of those moves, the Brewers used Marco Estrada for two innings, and he got the loss. As maligned as the St. Louis bullpen has been, it pitched six scoreless innings on Tuesday after Garcia got knocked out early.

These teams are back on the field Wednesday afternoon. Beware of fireworks. And the fun part of all this? These teams play again next week in St. Louis.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.