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NLCS Gm6: Brewers crank trio of homers in NLCS Game 6

MILWAUKEE -- Someday, Milwaukee may raise a mug to the 2011 Brewers. Fans will toast co-MVP candidates Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder and the nuttiness of Nyjer Morgan and his alter egos. They'll toast Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo starting games, the mustachioed John Axford closing them out, baseball's best home team and Beast Mode.

Someday. But not Sunday.

Shaun Marcum's disastrous first inning transformed Game 6 of the National League Championship Series into a Cardinals hitting clinic, and Miller Park into a somber farewell for free-agent-to-be Fielder. The Cards scored nine runs over the first three innings alone, an early barrage that sent the Brewers to a season-ending 12-6 loss and sent St. Louis on to the World Series.

The Cardinals took the NLCS, 4-2, and will host the Rangers in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday at Busch Stadium. It's the Redbirds' 18th NL pennant, and their sixth since the LCS format was introduced in 1970, most of any NL franchise. Albert Pujols & Co. are playing for the franchise's 11th World Series championship.

The Brewers are going home.

"I would have liked to get two from them this time and get some revenge," Hall of Famer Robin Yount said outside the Brewers' clubhouse.

His club was in the opposite position when these teams last met in the postseason. Milwaukee took a 3-2 lead to St. Louis during the 1982 World Series and wound up losing a pair of games -- and the championship -- at Busch Stadium.

Now the Cardinals have bounced the Brewers again.

"These Cardinals are getting under my skin," Yount said.

Milwaukee never had a chance to get to a Game 7 this time, because St. Louis had a 4-0 lead before Marcum threw his 22nd pitch. The Cards piled on his replacement to silence a raucous crowd of 43,926 as Game 6 turned into a home run derby.

Third baseman David Freese, named the NLCS MVP, set the tone with a three-run homer off Marcum in the first inning. By the time Pujols went deep in the top of the third, 22 batters had stepped to the plate and six had homered, three Cardinals and three Brewers. The six homers were an all-time record for the first three innings of a postseason game and one shy of the record for homers in an LCS contest.

Freese, Rafael Furcal and Pujols helped build leads of 4-0, 5-1 and 9-4 for St. Louis over the first three innings. Corey Hart answered with a leadoff homer in the bottom of the first inning to awaken a crowd that had been silenced, and Rickie Weeks and Jonathan Lucroy homered in the second inning to trim the deficit to 5-4.

The Brewers suddenly had hope, and the Cardinals extinguished it against lefty reliever Chris Narveson. Pujols' blast started a four-run third inning, and Milwaukee never got closer than four runs the rest of the night.

Two teams that were so even for much of the season, splitting 18 regular-season matchups and the first four games of the NLCS with only two runs separating them, seemed so different by the time Cards players dogpiled on the mound at Miller Park. The Cardinals outscored the Brewers in the six-game series, 43-26.

"It felt like, for me, calling pitches, that Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and all of them were hitting against us," Lucroy said. "That's what it felt like. Calling pitches against them is tough, because they're all over the place. They're hot. They're real hot."

Never mind that Milwaukee was the better 2011 team during a 96-win regular season, taking the NL Central by six games over a second-place St. Louis club that claimed the Wild Card on the final day. Both teams went to a deciding Game 5 in the NL Division Series, the Brewers beating the D-backs and the Cardinals the heavily favored Phillies to set up a Milwaukee-St. Louis NLCS.

At some point, will the Brewers be able to look back and celebrate that it was a good season?

"Definitely," said Braun, who was held hitless Sunday for only the second time in 11 postseason games this year. "Not now. But at some point, we'll definitely be able to look back and be proud of everything we accomplished. We won 96 games, an all-time franchise record. We won the first postseason series in 29 years for the Milwaukee Brewers. We ended up with 101 wins overall, including the postseason. We definitely accomplished some special things."

The Cardinals simply accomplished more, despite the fact that no St. Louis starter threw a pitch in a sixth inning during the NLCS. Starter Edwin Jackson lasted only two innings in Game 6 but still managed to outpitch Marcum, the right-hander entrusted to deliver the Brewers to a Game 7.

Instead, Marcum's third postseason start was the worst of all. He surrendered a walk and three hits, including Freese's three-run home run on a thigh-high changeup to put Milwaukee in a 4-0 hole 21 pitches into the night.

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said hours before Game 6 that he was convinced it was "the right decision" to start Marcum, who had surrendered at least five runs in five of his previous six starts, including two losses in the postseason. He might have allowed five runs in the first inning Sunday if not for a friendly call at home plate, and the veteran righty finished his first postseason 0-3 with a 14.90 ERA, allowing 16 earned runs and 17 hits in 9 2/3 innings.

Marcum pitched 210 1/3 innings this season, the most of his career and the second consecutive heavy workload after Marcum missed all of 2009 while recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. He again dismissed any notion that fatigue played a role in his swoon.

"My body felt great, arm felt great," Marcum said. "I just missed location on pitches. That's all it comes down to."

The Miller Park magic somehow didn't stick to Marcum. The Brewers lost 26 games at home this season, regular season and postseason, and Marcum started half of them.

Roenicke said again after the game that starting Marcum was the right decision. Milwaukee needed to win two games to advance, and Roenicke believed saving Yovani Gallardo to pitch a Game 7 on full rest was the way to go.

"Obviously, he's a little off," Lucroy said. "That's all I can say. I'm not a pitching coach. He just hasn't been as sharp as he usually was. ... You've kind of had the team riding on you, but to his credit, he carried us the majority of the year. In the first part of the season, he was our horse, so I think it's unfair to get on him now, because he threw a lot of innings for us and got a lot of wins for us.

"I don't think it's fair, really, to bury him now and put it all on him. I don't think that's the case at all. We lost as a team."

That included a defense that aided two more Cardinals runs with Kameron Loe on the mound in the fifth inning. The Brewers added three errors and committed nine in the series, an NLCS record.

"I've always said -- the best teams get to the postseason and the hottest team wins it," Braun said. "You look at the way [the Cardinals] came into this postseason, they were down 10 games in the month of September. They've been playing phenomenal baseball, they were clearly the better team in the series, and, ultimately, I think the team that deserved to win, did win."

Fielder was 0-for-4 on Sunday and was limited to 1-for-14 over the final four games of the NLCS. He received a standing ovation as he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning and again after he grounded out to second base, one last acknowledgement from fans who know the slugger's next at-bat will probably come in another uniform. Fielder is Milwaukee's highest-profile free agent.

The Brewers won't have to wait long to see the Cardinals again. After St. Louis makes a one-game stop in Miami to open the Marlins' new stadium, the Cards and the Brew Crew will meet for Opening Day at Miller Park on April 6, 2012.

"We were real, real close this year," said Morgan. "We just didn't get the cigar."

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