ST. LOUIS -- In April, the St. Louis bullpen lost four games with late-inning meltdowns, forcing management to make sweeping changes.
While those changes have been overshadowed by great starting pitching that has given the Cardinals the best record in Major League Baseball, they've worked out. And it was never more evident than Friday night.
When starting pitcher Jaime Garcia nearly coughed up a 6-0 lead, three relievers picked up the last 11 outs, giving Garcia and the Cardinals a 7-6 decision over Milwaukee.
David Freese's second career grand slam capped a five-run first inning that gave St. Louis (27-14) just enough cushion to hold on despite two three-run homers by Aramis Ramirez.
But the difference was a bullpen that has stabilized since adding Seth Maness from Class AAA Memphis and giving Edward Mujica a shot at the closer's role that came open when Mitchell Boggs repeatedly imploded in place of last year's closer, Jason Motte, who's out for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Maness came on for Garcia (5-2) in the sixth and worked 1 2/3 innings. Trevor Rosenthal escaped a potentially sticky eighth and Mujica delivered another clean ninth for his 12th save in as many chances.
"He's had great composure," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Mujica. "He's made right now to do this. We didn't know which way it would go, but he's delivered."
It was Mujica's seventh save in a one-run game and it went like most of them -- with little fuss. He got Yuniesky Betancourt on a grounder, fanned Rickie Weeks and induced a flyout from Martin Maldonado to end it.
Prior to that, Maness whiffed Weeks with the tying run at second in the sixth, then got through the seventh with the help of shortstop Pete Kozma's backhand stop that took a two-out hit away from Jean Segura.
A starter throughout his pro career, Maness has made a seamless transition to the bullpen, working his way to the seventh-inning setup role with his ability to throw strike after strike.
"I have tried to train myself to work quick because then you get great plays like the one Kozma made for me," Maness said. "I've gotten a sense of where I might come into a game and who I might face now."
Rosenthal permitted a leadoff infield single to Ryan Braun in the eighth but threw a 3-2 fastball by Ramirez with Braun running. Yadier Molina's throw to second beat Braun and that was it for the Brewers' offense.
Ramirez enjoyed the 26th multi-homer game of his career, nearly overcoming a 6-0 deficit on his own. But a rare slow start by Milwaukee (16-24) rendered Ramirez's mighty effort fruitless.
Milwaukee entered the night with a major-league-best 35-9 run differential in the first inning, but it was St. Louis jumping all over the Brewers with both feet.
After Garcia worked a 1-2-3 first on six pitches, the Cardinals lit up Wily Peralta (3-4). Matt Carpenter led off with a single, moved to second on Carlos Beltran's infield out and scored on Matt Holliday's sharp single to center.
Allen Craig walked and Molina singled to fill the bases, but Jon Jay fanned for the second out. However, Freese matched his season RBI total of four in one swing -- a 419-foot clout over the center-field wall for a 5-0 lead.
"It's never been about getting the first homer," said Freese, homerless in his first 91 at-bats. "It just feels good to help the team. I haven't done squat and we still have a heck of a record."
"I know it's a relief for him," Matheny said of Freese, who knocked in a career-high 79 runs last year. "It's been weighing on him. It's been no fun for him, but he just keeps working."
Peralta also allowed RBI singles in the third and fourth to Jay and Holliday, respectively. He gave up 11 hits and all seven runs in five innings as his ERA soared to 5.94.
NOTES: St. Louis RHP Jake Westbrook experienced a minor setback in his recovery from right elbow inflammation when he required a shot to break up scar tissue. Westbrook was disabled on May 9 but likely won't be able to pitch until sometime in June. ... Milwaukee's decision to activate RHP Francisco Rodriguez and demote C/1B Blake Lalli means it's carrying 13 pitchers and just four reserves on its 25-man roster. The Brewers have just two left-handed hitters among position players. ... The Cardinals are in the middle of a stretch where they're playing 13 straight games against teams with losing records.