ST. LOUIS -- In a battle of the bullpens, the Cardinals had to like their chances. And indeed, their offense made much more noise than the Brewers' unit did.
But when basepath traffic didn't translate to runs, the Cards let the game linger long enough for Ryan Braun to leave his mark.
Braun's 13th-inning homer off reliever Lance Lynn delivered the final blow to a St. Louis club that had squandered several opportunities to end the game much earlier. Instead, the Cardinals were left to shoulder a 5-4 loss to a Milwaukee team that has now won 14 of its last 18 games.
"This is tough," said Carlos Beltran, on the heels of his 0-for-5 night. "We had some opportunities to win this one and we just couldn't come through as a team."
The loss, which ended with only a handful of the announced crowd of 38,648 still at Busch Stadium, kept the Cardinals from gaining another game over the Dodgers and Pirates for the second National League Wild Card spot. St. Louis' lead remains at 1 1/2 games.
"It's extremely frustrating," manager Mike Matheny said of the four-hour, 30-minute affair that, because of a rain delay, ended at 2:05 a.m. CT.
"We had our chances and just couldn't come through."
Lynn pitched a scoreless 12th and returned to the mound in the 13th. He retired the leadoff hitter before leaving a 1-1 curveball in Braun's bat path. Braun teed off on the pitch, pushing his league-leading home run total to 38.
While pleased with how the rest of the inning progressed, Lynn watched a mistake mar yet another relief appearance. Since moving to the bullpen, Lynn has given up a run in four of five appearances.
"It wasn't supposed to go over the fence, that's for sure," said Lynn, when asked where he was trying to locate the pitch. "It was just a bad breaking ball to the MVP of last year. He did what he was supposed to do with it."
The Cardinals brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the bottom half of the inning, but closer John Axford closed out his 26th game.
"Not every loss is the same, and not every win is the same, that's for sure," Braun said. "This was a win that feels more meaningful to us as a team. It truly tests your resiliency and perseverance on a day like this."
The Brewers scored three of their five runs off St. Louis relievers, as Milwaukee managed to shake the Cardinals' sequence of late-inning relievers like few have. Edward Mujica, in the seventh, and Mitchell Boggs, in the eighth, both budged enough to allow Milwaukee to inch ahead, 4-2.
That spoiled Kyle Lohse's chance to pick up his 15th win.
Lohse carried a 2-1 lead into the seventh, but a one-out walk and a single brought Matheny out and Mujica in to deal with runners on the corners. In his first 16 appearances for St. Louis, Mujica had not allowed a run -- inherited or his own -- to score.
That streak came to a game-tying halt. The lead runner scored when Beltran couldn't corral a looping hit in front of him.
"Unfortunately, I walked that guy in the seventh inning and it led to trouble," Lohse said. "Other than that, I felt like it was one of my normal games. I didn't miss too many pitches."
An inning later, a string of three singles -- the latter two with two out -- drove home two more Milwaukee runs. Both of those came off Boggs, who has been scored upon in back-to-back outings for the second time this season.
However, the Cardinals hardly played from behind for long. Yadier Molina lifted his 18th homer of the season -- a two-run blast with two outs -- in the bottom of the eighth to even the game at 4.
"Yadi was fantastic," Matheny said. "He leads the team. He got us right back in the game. ... He did everything he could do."
When it came to clutch hits, though, that was about the end of them. Aside from scoring twice off Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo in the first, the Cardinals were unsuccessful in capitalizing upon scoring opportunities. And there were several.
Cleanup hitter Allen Craig struck out to end the third with runners on the corners. In the fourth, the Cardinals fell short of pushing home a runner from third twice. A missed sacrifice bunt by Lohse also loomed large. Another runner was left at third in the seventh.
St. Louis stranded the bases loaded in the 11th. In the 12th, two one-out singles went for naught. That was all against a volatile Milwaukee bullpen that entered with an ERA of 4.68.
The Cardinals finished the night 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
"More than anything, that's what sticks out -- the opportunities we had with men in scoring position," Matheny said. "We just couldn't come through. That was the game."
No one had a more troublesome night than Beltran, who stranded six runners in his hitless game. Beltran, who is hitting .203 since the All-Star break, has just three RBIs since Aug. 12.
"Right now I'm not getting results the way I wanted to," Beltran said. "I'm a little behind on the fastball and in front of the changeup and off-speed pitches. But I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing and that's being able to come in and work hard."
The most concentrated production from the Cardinals on Friday came from the top of the lineup. Jon Jay and Matt Carpenter, a late insert into the lineup replacing Matt Holliday, reached base a combined seven times and accounted for half of the team's 10 hits.
Each scored a first-inning run off Gallardo, who finished six innings.
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.