ST. LOUIS -- Two former teammates and longtime roommates, Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly, began Wednesday what likely will be a long-running comparison between their young careers and did so with a game as close as their friendship.
They each allowed one run. They each completed seven innings.
They each watched as another pitcher decided the game.
Kelly's new club, the Boston Red Sox, kept Miller's St. Louis Cardinals from moving into a tie for first place in the National League Central with a run in the ninth inning and a 2-1 victory at Busch Stadium.
Boston broke a tie game with a sacrifice fly in the top of the ninth off Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal. Called into his fourth appearance in as many games, Rosenthal was asked to freeze a 1-1 tie and could not as the first three batters of the inning reached base and Xander Bogaerts lifted a sacrifice fly to score Yoenis Cespedes for the winner.
"We've been riding him hard," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Rosenthal, who pitched for the fifth time in the past week. "He comes out there and slams the door and gives us another shot to make something happen. He's the guy we want in that spot."
The Cardinals, who rallied late to win Sunday and again Tuesday, got the winning run to first base in the ninth inning before Red Sox closer Koji Uehara ended the game.
After the fifth inning the Cardinals failed to get a runner to third base on Kelly or the bullpen.
Miller said who he was facing faded to the background of just another close game.
"You think about it going into it, knowing you're facing one of your buddies who literally just got traded a couple days ago and then the next thing you know he's pitching against you," Miller said. "You block that. You put that aside. We know what's at stake right now. We're trying to chase Milwaukee, catch them, get into first place. Whoever you're opponent is you're trying to beat them. It's simple as that. We got beat."
The first-place Brewers left the Cardinals an opening to move back into a tie atop the division. The Cardinals remained a game back with the loss in the interleague game.
The concern Matheny had going into Wednesday's game and the swirling storylines of friend vs. friend, best man vs. best man, former Cardinal vs. current Cardinal, Joe Kelly vs. Shelby Miller was all the "distractions" they presented.
Miller's focus, the manager said, had to be on the start, not the plot.
"I see the backstory and the sidelines here," Matheny said. "I don't want Shelby to go out there and try to be superhuman. I need Shelby to go out there and be a good Shelby. If I had Joe in the same situation, I would be saying the same thing."
The two close friends -- one who the Cardinals kept, the other who the Cardinals dealt -- took very different routes, as they often do, to very similar ends Wednesday.
Through his debut with the Red Sox, Kelly toyed with a career night by taking Boston into the bottom of the seventh inning, a place he had been only once before this season. To get there he had to sidestep baserunners and concerns about a bruised knee.
Miller maintained what's been a second-half surge for him.
Jolted by the trade and seeking to affirm his place in the Cardinals' rotation, Miller crafted his third consecutive strong start, each longer than the previous. Miller completed seven innings for the first time since his shutout on June 7.
Miller allowed four hits, Kelly three. Kelly struck out two, Miller four.
The comparisons will continue as the Cardinals are banking on Miller blossoming as a factor for the rotation.
On Tuesday, Kelly had the curious breakdown of 29 balls and 29 strikes through his first 58 pitches. Miller was more efficient, tossing three perfect innings in his first six. It took Miller 88 pitches to finish seven innings and his start.
Kelly needed 86 to get through six.
Ovations seemed to follow Kelly's every step through his first appearance at Busch since last week's trade that packaged him and Allen Craig for Red Sox righty John Lackey.
When he came out of the dugout after a 1-hour, 3-minute pregame rain delay to walk to the bullpen for his warmup, there was applause.
When he walked back from the bullpen, there was applause. When he took the mound for the bottom of the first inning, a standing ovation spread through the crowd.
An ovation greeted his first at-bat and an only slightly more subdued ovation welcomed him for his second at-bat.
Kelly legged out an infield hit -- on a call overturned by a replay -- against Miller. After the replay, he returned to first base to applause from the crowd.
By that time the Cardinals led 1-0.
Matt Carpenter drove Kelly's fourth pitch of the game for a double off the right-field wall. He inched to third base on a groundout and waited for a teammate to bring him home.
Matt Holliday couldn't. Matt Adams did with a two-out single past a diving Dustin Pedroia.
Boston tied the score in the fourth when Holliday failed to catch a ball at the left-field wall.
The rally started with two outs when Daniel Nava struck a single to right field. Xander Bogaerts lofted a drive toward the Red Sox bullpen in left field. Holliday was able to reach the wall as the ball came down, but it glanced off his glove and away for an RBI double that tied the game 1-1.
The ball didn't carry to left or center for either team. Mike Napoli had a blast that could have flipped the game, but Jon Jay tracked it at the wall. Jhonny Peralta had a bolt off Kelly in the sixth inning that the Cardinals dugout thought was gone, until Cespedes ran into the wall to catch it for an out.
Cespedes opened the ninth with a single off Rosenthal to spark the inning. Napoli followed with a double. Rosenthal intentionally walked David Ortiz before Bogaerts' sacrifice fly snapped the tie and continued the closer's taxing evening.
"I was trying to be aggressive, get ahead, not have long at-bats," Rosenthal said. "I felt good. I felt good the whole inning."
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