Braun's go-ahead blast in ninth propels Brewers
Right fielder's second home run of the game stuns Pirates closer Grilli
PITTSBURGH -- Against a pitcher the Brewers haven't touched in nearly seven years, Ryan Braun capped a big night with his biggest hit of the season.
Braun's second home run of the night was a go-ahead two-run laser beam off Pirates closer Jason Grilli that silenced a loud chorus of boos in the ninth inning at PNC Park and gave the Brewers a second unlikely win in as many games, 8-7, on Saturday night.
After committing four errors in a victory on Friday, the Brewers looked sunk Saturday after a five-run Pirates rally in the fourth inning made possible by Rickie Weeks' costly error and a number of more subtle miscues. But the Brewers won again, thanks to three hits and four runs scored from Braun, three doubles and two RBIs from Jonathan Lucroy and career save No. 310 for Francisco Rodriguez, who dodged Braun's go-ahead homer in the bullpen before tying Hall of Famer Goose Gossage for 20th place on Major League Baseball's all-time saves list.
At 13-5, the Brewers held on to baseball's best record, a half-game ahead of the surging Oakland A's and the Atlanta Braves.
"It's definitely an encouraging sign that we're able to win games that we shouldn't be winning," Braun said. "I don't think we've played very good baseball. I don't know how many errors we've made exactly, but we've made plenty more mistakes. On the bases, defensively, offensively -- we really haven't played well.
"But sometimes good teams find a way to win, and these are the types of games that we wouldn't have won over the last couple years, that early in the season we're finding a way to win. So, definitely encouraging."
Said Rodriguez: "We feel like we just took one out of their pocket."
Braun hit it out of the Pirates' pocket. He now has five home runs this season, all in the state of Pennsylvania. The other three came in Philadelphia on April 8.
Both of Braun's home runs on Saturday exited spacious PNC Park in a hurry and landed in the visitors' bullpen. The first came against left-hander Tony Watson in the seventh inning and cut the deficit to 7-6. The second came with one out and a runner aboard in the ninth against Grilli, who hadn't allowed a Brewers run since June 2007, when he was pitching for the Detroit Tigers and Braun was three weeks into his Major League career.
Grilli had worked 17 consecutive scoreless appearances against Milwaukee since then.
"That's the type of statistic we don't want to be aware of," Braun said. "I don't think many teams have a lot of success against a guy like that -- or their whole bullpen, for that matter. Their whole bullpen throws 95-plus, they all have great stuff. There's a reason they've been so successful. It's not a good formula to have to come back against a team like this, but tonight we were able to do it."
Grilli tried to bury a sinker inside against Braun, but left his pitch over the plate. He was even more upset about missing with a breaking ball to Jean Segura, whose single over shortstop gave Braun the opportunity to represent the go-ahead run.
"The pitch was not where I wanted it, obviously," Grilli said.
Braun's 20th multihomer game helped overcome the Brewers' sloppiness in the bottom of the fourth inning, when there was plenty of blame to go around at PNC Park. There was pitcher Matt Garza's leadoff walk, to Weeks' bad error on a potential double-play ball, to the sharp single that got past third baseman Aramis Ramirez, to an ill-advised throw to third by center fielder Carlos Gomez. All contributed to Pirates runs.
But the key mistake belonged to Weeks, the longtime starter who has been dropped into a platoon this season with upstart Scooter Gennett. After Pedro Alvarez's would-be double-play grounder clanked off Weeks' glove, the Pirates' big inning was on. Jose Tabata hit an RBI single that got past Ramirez and was ruled a hit. Garza walked Ike Davis -- who had two hits and scored two runs in his Pirates debut after a Friday trade from the Mets -- but promptly retired Neil Walker on a lineout to right field. Instead of moving to the fifth inning after a scoreless frame, it was only the Pirates' first out.
Clint Barmes followed with a sharply struck two-run single that tied the game, and took second base when Gomez opted to throw to third. That decision loomed large when pinch-hitter Travis Snider followed with another two-run single for a 6-4 Pirates lead.
Because the rules stipulate an official scorer cannot assume a double play, Garza was charged with six runs (five earned) on eight hits in five innings.
"You just keep throwing strikes," Garza said. "Try not to give up free bases. Keep throwing strikes and keep trying to get ground balls and let your defense help you. They just kept finding holes. That's about it."
Weeks also walked and grounded into a double play as part of an 0-for-2 night. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke dismissed a question about further limiting Weeks' playing time.
"You're saying you think we should do it a different way?" Roenicke said. "Rick's only starting against lefties. We're not seeing that many lefties, so the bulk of the playing time is certainly going to Scooter, and he's playing well. He's had some defensive things, too, but we'll just see how things go here."
The much more important thing, Roenicke said, was the victory. The Brewers improved to 8-1 away from Miller Park this season.
"Things are going really well when you play the way we have the last two games and you win the games," Roenicke said. "Something's going really well. Either the pitching is going really well, or the offense is to allow yourself to get ahead and win ballgames."