MILWAUKEE -- After barely making the team out of Spring Training, Jesus Aguilar was the Brewers' third-string first baseman. Now, he's been welcomed by teammates at Miller Park's home plate with a walk-off shower twice this season and is arguably his team's most feared hitter.
In their 2-1 win over the Cardinals on Friday night at Miller Park, the Brewers had three hits: an eighth-inning single from Eric Sogard and two solo home runs from Aguilar. In the victory, Aguilar became the first player in the Expansion Era (since 1961) to break up a no-hit bid of five-plus innings with a home run and hit a walk-off homer in the same game, per Elias Sports.
"I'm confident," Aguilar said. "I'm confident in myself. When I get a chance to go there, I'm going to give my 100 percent. That's how I think."
Aguilar's team-leading 15th homer broke up Jack Flaherty's no-hit bid with one out in the seventh inning. His 16th won it in the ninth off of Bud Norris. Add five-plus one-run innings from Junior Guerra, a lights-out bullpen and the benches clearing in the eighth and Milwaukee is above .500 (17-16) in the National League Central this season with its NL-best 45th win, extending its lead over the Cubs to two games.
But Brewers manager Craig Counsell was zeroed in on Aguilar carrying the team in his fifth-consecutive multi-RBI performance.
"It's again, it's putting together at-bats, smart at-bats, knowing what's going on," Counsell said. "[Aguilar has] really improved on that. He knows what he's looking for. I think that's the best way to say it. Able to use a good swing and the strength and be a really dangerous player."
The Brewers' offense scored 11 runs off two-time All-Star Carlos Martinez and the Cardinals' staff in a series-opening romp on Thursday night, yet they were anything but dangerous for most of Friday.
Flaherty had no-hit stuff for 100 pitches, but it was his 101st pitch when Aguilar connected for the Brewers' first hit -- a game-tying homer in the seventh.
Behind in the count 0-1, Aguilar said he was "just trying to hit the ball. [Flaherty] was dominating the strike zone tonight, and I think we got lucky. We tied the game in the moment, it's a new game, and we're moving forward, thinking we're going to win this game."
Flaherty pitched seven innings and tied a career-high with 13 strikeouts, blowing by the nine he had against the Brewers on April 3. Yet the rookie's one mistake to Aguilar -- who didn't have a home run this season until April 21 -- denied him of his fourth career victory.
Jordan Hicks hurled a scoreless eighth, allowing the single to Sogard, which led to the benches clearing after Sogard slid into Cardinals shortstop Yairo Munoz at second base.
Norris came on in a tie game in the ninth, and retired Travis Shaw before getting ahead of Aguilar in the count, 0-2. Then came another slider, one that Aguilar sent into the right-field bullpen.
"Well, I mean, it was just outstanding," Counsell said. "He hit two sliders. First one, guy's pitching a heck of a game, it's a ball out of the zone, it's just kind of strength and a good baseball swing gets it out of there. The last one, Norris has got a very good slider, it was a little up I think, but to get to that ball with two strikes was absolutely amazing. Yeah, he put us on our back tonight and carried us."
Aguilar's recent tear, which included a first-inning RBI double on Thursday off Martinez, is also earning respect from his opposition.
"Great hitter, he's hot right now," Norris said. "I got ahead, which was my focus. Then I got to expand him. I'm trying to throw a fastball up. I yanked it. He put a barrel on it, ball went over the fence. Not happy about it, that's for sure. "
With Eric Thames back in the lineup after thumb surgery and Ryan Braun healthy following a short cryotherapy procedure in Los Angeles earlier this week, Counsell certainly has several options for first base and left field.
Aguilar is making his best argument for earning the starting first-base job, just months after even making the team was in flux.
"When [Counsell] puts me there," Aguilar said, "he knows I'm going to battle and do what I'm supposed to do."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Hader puts out fire with 3 K's: With no outs and runners on first and second in the sixth inning, Josh Hader relieved Guerra, and finished the inning by striking out the Cardinals' 7-8-9 hitters to keep the deficit at one run.
"I was just attacking them," Hader said. "Using my strengths, and for me, that's not giving them anything they can put in play to score those runs."
The Brewers and Cardinals combined for 30 strikeouts over nine innings, and Milwaukee's bullpen -- Hader, Jacob Barnes, Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel -- had eight over four innings.
Some of those strikeouts led to disputes with home plate umpire Tim Timmons, including an ejection to Tommy Pham in the first inning after arguing with Timmons from the Cardinals' dugout. Thames threw his bat and slammed his helmet after his second strikeout of the game in the third.
"There was good pitching on both sides tonight," Counsell said. "When the pitchers keep putting the balls on the corners, there's going to be some disagreements. There were a lot of balls put on corners tonight."
Aguilar's walk-off home run not only made him the first Brewer with multiple walk-off homers in a season since Corey Hart in 2010, but helped him match Jeromy Burnitz's club record (1999) with multiple RBIs in five straight starts.
HE SAID IT
"Never. Never. Never. Don't strike out. That's why I was overaggressive trying to hit that pitch in front." -- Aguilar, who said he has never been on a team that was no-hit at any level of baseball and that his only game plan against Flaherty before the home run was to not strike out
Right-hander Chase Anderson (5-6, 4.54 ERA) will look to rebound in the third game of the Brewers' four-game series with the Cardinals on Saturday at 3:10 p.m. CT at Miller Park. Anderson allowed a season-high six runs on only five hits in a loss to the Phillies on Sunday. Right-hander Miles Mikolas (7-2, 2.69) will start for the Cardinals.