MILWAUKEE -- With three of their best hitters on the bench, the Brewers beat longtime nemesis Jason Hammel on Thursday for an unlikely series victory over the first-place Cubs.Junior Guerra became the first Brewers starter to log double-digit strikeouts and Chris Carter and Kirk Nieuwenhuis homered in Milwaukee's 5-3 win
MILWAUKEE -- With three of their best hitters on the bench, the Brewers beat longtime nemesis Jason Hammel on Thursday for an unlikely series victory over the first-place Cubs.
Junior Guerra became the first Brewers starter to log double-digit strikeouts and Chris Carter and Kirk Nieuwenhuis homered in Milwaukee's 5-3 win at Miller Park. The Brewers took two of three games from a Cubs club that had won 14 of the previous 15 matchups dating to last season, including five games in a row.
"I'm just proud of how the guys played today after the tough game last night," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell, referring to Chicago's 13-inning, five-hour win the night before. "That was our toughest game of the year, without question. We had a couple guys out of the lineup, but we played a really good game today. It was a satisfying win. Very satisfying."
Hammel entered the day 8-0 in 11 career starts against Milwaukee, but he absorbed his first-ever loss to the Brewers starting lineup absent Ryan Braun (back), Jonathan Lucroy (rest, though he pinch-hit in the eighth inning) and Domingo Santana (shoulder). Hammel allowed four runs on five hits, including Carter's tying solo home run in the fourth inning and Nieuwenhuis' go-ahead, two-run shot off the facade of the right-field bleachers in the sixth. Those homers backed Guerra, who surrendered a leadoff home run to Dexter Fowler but went on to log 11 strikeouts while allowing three runs on five hits in seven innings.
"They were very close games, and they never gave in to us," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of the Brewers. "We had good at-bats the first two nights. Today, they got us and out-pitched us today. Give them credit. They're playing really well, and they hurt us on defense and they hurt us on the mound."
• Bauman: Brewers starters offset Cubs' potent lineup
Brewers relievers Michael Blazek and Tyler Thornburg finished the game, with Thornburg logging his first career save. He pitched in place of Jeremy Jeffress, who threw 20 pitches on Wednesday night while pitching the Brewers' fifth straight game over six days.
The Cubs entered the series averaging 5.9 runs per game. They scored seven total runs in the three-game series.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Great escapes: Blazek and Thornburg each created trouble, then escaped it. In the eighth, Blazek walked Anthony Rizzo with two outs in a 4-3 game before Ben Zobrist beat the infield shift with a double. Blazek fell behind the next hitter, Jorge Soler, after two close pitches were called balls 1 and 2, but came back to strike out Soler with a slider, stranding the tying and go-ahead runners. Blazek pumped his fist before heading to the dugout. An inning later, Thornburg walked the first two men he faced but wound up stranding both in scoring position for the save.
"We're not trying to do that," Blazek said of the walks. "Obviously, it was exciting. Playing the Cubs, especially. We didn't want to give that one away. They've become a team everyone is looking at." More >
Start me up: After playing 13 innings Wednesday night, the Cubs needed a long outing by Hammel. He entered the game having given up one home run in his seven previous starts, but served up two on Thursday. Hammel was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the seventh after throwing 92 pitches. His ERA, which was 1.77 at the start of the day, jumped to 2.31.
"It wasn't a terrible outing," Hammel said. "Two bad pitches, and that's really all you can do."
Captain Kirk: Nieuwenhuis had a productive game (two hits, two runs scored, two RBIs) to cap a productive homestand in which he batted .363. He is hitting .340 (17-for-50) this season at Miller Park and has emerged as the Brewers' regular center fielder by batting .311 in May with seven RBIs. His second home run of the season gave the Brewers a 4-2 lead.
"He's played his way into some more playing time," Counsell said. "He's earned it. He's done a nice job. Quality at-bats every time he's up there."
You go, we go: Fowler got the Cubs going with a leadoff home run, hitting the second pitch from Guerra over the right-field fence. It was Fowler's fourth homer this season and 15th career leadoff blast. He now has hit safely in 21 of his last 26 games. Fowler nearly connected on home run No. 5 when he launched a fly ball to right with two on and one out in the ninth inning.
"I hit that off the end a little bit," Fowler said. "I hit that one well (in the first). Some of them get caught, some of them don't."
"I think it's just that I've been watching Frankie do it for so long, I had to make it a little bit more interesting." -- Thornburg, cracking a joke about former Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez's penchant for nail-biting saves
"You're not going to win them all, despite feeling like you can. You're not going to win them all." -- Maddon
• Cubs stay upbeat despite dropping series
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Before Guerra's outing Thursday, the last Brewers starter to strike out more than 10 batters in a home game was Jimmy Nelson on May 8, 2015, against the Cubs. Hammel was Chicago's starter that day as well.
Cubs:Jake Arrieta will open the Cubs' quick West Coast trip to San Francisco on Friday when he faces the Giants. The Cubs have won Arrieta's last 21 starts, extending a franchise record. First pitch will be at 9:15 p.m. CT.
Brewers: The Brewers are standing behind struggling starter Wily Peralta, who remains on turn to pitch Friday's series opener at Citi Field against the Mets. Steven Matz starts for New York, beginning at 6:10 p.m. CT.
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Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.