MILWAUKEE -- With sights set on their first series sweep of the season, the Cardinals let down twice on defense, and then were forced to turn to the bullpen early due to an injury that will likely cost Joe Kelly his next start.
Kelly's hamstring injury -- suffered in the fifth inning as he tried to reach on a bunt single with two outs -- loomed over Wednesday's 5-1 loss to the Brewers. But a pair of outs not recorded by Matt Adams and Jhonny Peralta contributed directly as 26,668 fans at Miller Park watched the Brewers retain their National League Central lead.
"Both [plays] ended up hurting us big," manager Mike Matheny said. "We have to bring that good defense. We've got the kind of guys who can make the plays. In games like this where we're not stacking up a bunch of runs, defensive plays can come back and bite you, and they did today."
Making his third start since earning the final rotation spot out of Spring Training, Kelly looked poised to roll against a Milwaukee club that accounted for three of his five losses last year. For the first time this season, Kelly had three reliable pitches: slider, curveball and fastball.
Kelly's only blemish through four innings was the result of Adams' muffed ground ball in the third.
"It had some topspin," said Adams, whose fumble allowed leadoff batter Logan Schafer to reach. "I had more time than I realized. I just kind of rushed."
Carlos Gomez followed Adams' error with an RBI double to give the Brewers their first lead of the series. Kelly answered by retiring the next five. He would not, however, get a chance to extend that string of outs.
Rather, Kelly headed to the trainer's room after his attempt to use his athleticism to get on base backfired. Brewers starter Wily Peralta fielded Kelly's fifth-inning bunt and threw a sprinting Kelly out at first. Kelly quickly signaled for a trainer as he grabbed his left hamstring.
The Cardinals later announced that Kelly was removed due to left hamstring tightness and would return to St. Louis on Thursday to have the injury evaluated further.
"I definitely tweaked it, and it's something I felt instantly," said Kelly, who was walking with a limp after the game. "I called the trainer over and let him know and came out of the game. ... I've been healthy my whole life. This is the first [injury]. It's kind of shocking."
Seth Maness relieved him, and after an extended warmup, he retired the first two batters he faced. His chance for a 1-2-3 inning was quashed when Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta misplayed a line drive off the bat of Wily Peralta. The ball, described by Jhonny Peralta as a knuckleball, skimmed off his glove and onto the outfield grass.
"I don't know how to explain it, but it's really hard," Peralta said. "At the last moment when I tried to catch it, it was moving to the right side. In that situation, it's hard to catch. It hit the corner of my glove. There's nothing I can do right there."
The official scorer first ruled it a hit for the Brewers' starter, before reversing his call to an error after reviewing the play in between innings. About an hour after the game, he changed it back to a hit, a call that both Peraltas agreed with.
That scoring decision, of course, did not affect the outcome, but it did bloat Maness' ERA as the three runs that followed were therefore earned. A walk and a single loaded the bases for Jonathan Lucroy, who delivered a two-run single. Aramis Ramirez pushed home one more with an RBI single to left.
Milwaukee added an insurance run on Lyle Overbay's bases-loaded walk against Pat Neshek in the eighth inning.
"That's a pretty good team over there, and they've had some momentum against us the past few years," Lucroy said. "It was nice to get a win and come off a 4-2 homestand. That's pretty good. If we can do that the rest of the year, we're going to be there in the end."
After stranding two in the sixth, the Cardinals brought the potential tying run to the plate in the seventh, when singles by Jon Jay and pinch-hitter Matt Carpenter brought up Kolten Wong's spot in the lineup. Matheny opted to go with right-handed-hitting Shane Robinson against lefty reliever Will Smith, and Smith won the matchup. Robinson grounded into a double play that kept St. Louis from tightening the game.
The Cardinals ended the game with two more baserunners stranded.
"We didn't get that big hit," Matheny said. "But we had a couple of big opportunities offensively."
The team's lone run came an inning earlier, when Allen Craig connected for his first home run of the year. It was Craig's second extra-base hit in as many days after going 13 games without one.
Peralta, now 2-3 with a 6.49 ERA in five career starts against St. Louis, scattered five other hits in his 6 1/3-inning appearance.
This marked the end of the Cardinals' run of 15 consecutive games against division opponents. They exit the stretch having gone 9-6 with four series wins, but still no sweeps.
"We needed a big start from somebody, and [Peralta] came out right away with a fastball that was down in the zone, good sliders," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "That was an important game, and he did his job."
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.