PHOENIX -- Major League Baseball's stingiest bullpens matched up for the first time Monday in a tie game. The D-backs yielded. The Brewers did not.
In a 7-2 Brewers win at Chase Field, Christian Yelich hit a tie-breaking single off D-backs reliever Andrew Chafin in a two-run seventh inning before Jonathan Villar and Tyler Saladino homered in a three-run ninth -- Saladino sprinting around the bases for the first pinch-hit, inside-the park home run in club history on a play that saw D-backs center fielder A.J. Pollock injure his thumb trying to make a diving catch.
Where they are is 25-17, tied with the Braves for the most wins in the National League. It was a three-way tie at the start of the night, but the D-backs fell back with their sixth straight loss.
After Yelich delivered in his first pinch-hit appearance in a Brewers uniform, Villar homered in the top of the ninth inning for insurance to cap a three-hit, three-run game he was not supposed to start, and Saladino added more insurance with a two-run, inside-the-park home run as the Brewers extended their lead in the NL Central to a full game over the idle Pirates and Cardinals.
Milwaukee is in that position despite a scoring offense that still ranked in MLB's bottom four entering the night after 23 runs over the previous four days in Colorado, and a starting rotation bitten by injuries and illness. Their strength is that bullpen, with a 2.62 ERA that ranks second only to Arizona's 2.55. Brewers relievers also rank second in MLB with 2.6 Wins Above Replacement, just behind the Yankees' 2.9.
"For me, it's the best bullpen in baseball right now," said Brewers starter Junior Guerra, who was admittedly biased after Hader pitched two scoreless innings and Williams worked a perfect ninth to help seal a win for Guerra after three straight losses.
Guerra added, "You know if you go five, six good innings, you've got a lot of chances to win."
An awakening offense helped, too. Orlando Arcia delivered a two-run double with two outs in the second inning before Yelich and Domingo Santana drove in a run apiece in a decisive seventh inning that saw D-backs manager Torey Lovullo use three relievers behind starter Patrick Corbin. The second of those relievers, left-hander Chafin, threw one pitch, a fastball high and tight that Yelich lined the opposite way for a 3-2 lead.
The late runs made a winner of Guerra, who couldn't command his splitter but delivered a quality start of six innings, three hits and two earned runs with mostly fastballs, logging four walks and three strikeouts. Guerra held Arizona hitless before a seven-batter, two-run fourth inning that tied the game into the seventh.
"We really needed it," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell of Guerra's six full frames, after no Milwaukee starter did so in the four preceding games at Coors Field. "It was a lot of fastballs tonight, and a good fastball. A very good fastball."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Opportunity knocks: Switch-hitting Villar was 3-for-21 this season as a right-handed batter, so it was no surprise when he was not in the original lineup against the left-hander Corbin. But Villar was called into duty when Ryan Braun was scratched with a stiff back, and he made the most of the at-bats with a pair of singles from the right side of the plate off Corbin before his solo homer batting left-handed in the ninth off Noel Salas.
"I should have had him in the original lineup? Is that what you're saying?" Counsell said.
The dagger: In less than a week with the Brewers, Saladino has already made an impression. Monday marked his first opportunity to flaunt his speed, circling the bases in 15.53 seconds, according to Statcast™, to beat the last Brewer to hit an inside-the-park home run -- Arcia last June 17 -- by a cool one hundredth of a second. More important, Saladino extended a three-run lead to five runs, meaning a switch from closer Corey Knebel for the bottom of the ninth inning to Williams. Knebel just returned last week from a stint on the disabled list for a hamstring injury.
"Everything you've got. Turn it on," Saladino said of his sprint. "It doesn't happen very often, so you have to dig a little deeper than normal."
HE SAID IT
"Everybody has been aggressive. We've attacked every hitter. That's why we have each other's backs, no matter what. That goes for the team in general. I mean, we're going until the ballgame's over. We see what we have, and we think we can definitely do something." -- Hader, who saw the Brewers improve to 15-0 when he pitches
The Brewers have won five straight Jhoulys Chacin starts, and they'll try to make it six in a row when the veteran right-hander matches up against Zack Greinke and the D-backs at 8:40 p.m. CT on Tuesday night at Chase Field. Thanks to better command of his signature slider, Chacin has a 2.89 ERA over his last six starts, including those five Brewers wins in a row. Both pitchers are facing former teams: Greinke pitched for the Brewers in 2011-12, and Chacin for the D-backs in 2015.