MILWAUKEE -- Exactly three weeks ago, the Milwaukee Brewers traded right-hander John Axford to the St. Louis Cardinals for a player to be named, which eventually turned out to be right-hander Michael Blazek.
The two pitchers' paths crossed again Friday night at Miller Park when the Cardinals inched closer to a playoff berth with a 7-6 victory in 10 innings.
Axford, once a lights-out closer for the Brewers, came on with the bases loaded and the Cardinals up by a run in the ninth inning, but the Brewers tied the score when Daniel Descalso couldn't field Aramis Ramirez's grounder, making it a 6-6 game.
Axford got Carlos Gomez to bounce into a double-play to end the inning and Milwaukee sent Blazek out to work the top of the 10th.
He opened with a walk to pinch-hitter Kolton Wong and put runners at second and third when Matt Carpenter doubled to center. Carlos Beltran was next and put St. Louis ahead with a sac fly to right.
"I was just trying to get a ground ball and get us back in the dugout," Axford said. "Initially, it was trying to seal the win right there. I would have preferred to have gotten the save as supposed to the win. It worked out."
Carlos Martinez worked a perfect ninth for his first save of the season, giving Axford (7-7) his first victory as a Cardinal and Blazek his first loss as a major leaguer.
"My first Cardinal win coming against the team I used to play for," Axford said. "Definitely a fantastic win. It is big for this team. We needed that win. I would have preferred to got out of the ninth with the save instead."
The late-inning excitement erased subpar outings by both starters.
Johnny Hellweg's major league struggles continued as he allowed five walks and seven hits in five innings but was bailed out by three double plays and two spot-on outfield assists.
"Our defense really helped him out, but he made some really big pitches on some double plays," Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "He's looking pretty good. We've just got to get him more consistent and throwing strikes. He gave us a good chance to win."
St. Louis' Shelby Miller has held Milwaukee to three runs in 25 innings in three previous starts this season, but that total was doubled in the first inning when Ramirez wiped out a 1-0 Cardinals lead with a three-run homer to center.
Matt Holliday's RBI single made it 3-2 in the fifth, but Milwaukee answered with another run in the bottom of the inning.
Left-hander Michael Gonzalez allowed back-to-back one-out doubles in the seventh, bringing the Cardinals within a run at 4-3, but Adams' RBI single tied the score before Brandon Kintzler ended the inning on Yadier Molina's fly ball to left.
Adams came through again in the ninth, belting a two-run homer to right center, part of a 3-for-5 effort that included three RBIs and a run scored while reaching in five of six plate appearances despite nursing a nagging elbow injury.
"Trainers were able to get him to the point where he could get back out there and make him feel comfortable," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "That brace he's got on his arm doesn't affect too much. He came out and had great at-bats right from the top."
Ramirez had three hits and five RBIs and Norichika Aoki went 4-for-4 with a walk and three runs scored for the Brewers, who collected 13 hits.
"We played a really good game and we lost, that's what I think," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "There was a couple of guys out of the bullpen that didn't throw the ball that well. (Jim) Henderson comes in and does his job. He gets two strikeouts and I'm forced to put him in a position that I don't usually do with him. I don't usually have him go in there and get five outs. Kintzler wasn't as sharp as he has been but still, he threw the ball well. Same thing. I put him out there, then I bring him out the next day. I'd love to not have to do that, but I thought we played a good game."
The victory gives the Cardinals a two-game lead over Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in the National League Central. The Reds beat the Pirates 6-5 on Friday to move into a tie for second place in the division.
Washington's 8-0 victory over Miami on Friday left the Cardinals' magic number to clinch a playoff berth at two games.
NOTES: Brewers SS Jean Segura was out of the lineup again, still recovering from a strained right hamstring. Roenicke said he would not play Segura for the rest of the season if the injury doesn't progress, but didn't see that being an issue. ... OF Khris Davis, dealing with a sore left wrist, also didn't start but was available to pinch-hit if needed. ... Cardinals manager Mike Matheny moved Carlos Beltran up to the No. 2 spot in the lineup in an effort to snap a mini-slump. Beltran is 6-for-37 in his 10 previous games, dropping his average from .308 to .297.