Brewers top Cubs, push winning streak to five
MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers hit for the cycle and scored four runs before making an out, then packed the bats away for most of the night. They did just enough to continue an unlikely winning streak.
A club five days removed from the longest scoring drought in franchise history suddenly has won five games in a row, including Friday's 5-4 triumph over the Cubs at Miller Park. Ryan Braun's three-run home run highlighted Milwaukee's four-run first inning, and Carlos Gomez hit a key insurance homer in the seventh.
The Brewers have won 16 of their last 18 home games against the Cubs, including six in a row.
Milwaukee has won five straight after starting the season 2-8. Seemingly out of nowhere, there's a good feeling brewing in the Brewers' dugout.
"There is, yes," manager Ron Roenicke said. "Why that happens? You win some games, win them late the way we won in St. Louis [on Sunday]. Then you see what happens, and hopefully you turn that into something. This time, it has."
It snowed outside the closed dome during batting practice, but the Brewers started hot against Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija, who entered the night with a 2.75 ERA and the National League's fourth-best strikeout total.
It was a challenge similar to the one Milwaukee faced the day before, when Matt Cain took the mound for the Giants. Braun hit the first of three two-run home runs in the first three innings that afternoon, and the Brewers held on to win.
"You have to get them early," Braun said. "You saw it tonight -- once he settles in, he's as tough as anybody in baseball. It was the same thing yesterday, really, with Cain. Once he got locked in, we weren't scoring anymore."
The Brewers scored early against Samardzija with some help.
Norichika Aoki reached on an error by first baseman Anthony Rizzo before Jean Segura singled, Braun smacked his three-run home run, Rickie Weeks doubled and Jonathan Lucroy hit an RBI triple into the right-field corner, giving the Brewers a 4-0 lead and a team cycle before they made an out.
The last team to hit for the cycle within the first five batters of the game was Kansas City on Sept. 30, 2006, at Detroit. The Royals needed only four batters to complete the feat.
"It all started with the first ground ball of the game," said Cubs manager Dale Sveum, who was ejected in the sixth after arguing with plate umpire Chris Guccione. "That set everything into a tailspin. Easy ground ball, boot it and then they were able to hit and run and execute it. That would've never happened if we got Aoki out. We outplayed them for the last eight innings. That seems to be par for the course."
The Cubs would answer in the third inning against Brewers starter Marco Estrada, leading off with Luis Valbuena's home run and cutting the deficit to 4-3 three batters later when David DeJesus hit a full-count fastball for a two-run homer.
Estrada faced further trouble when Starlin Castro followed with a sharp single, but escaped when fill-in first baseman Yuniesky Betancourt initiated a 3-6-3 double play. It was one of three double plays induced by Estrada in six innings of work, including one he started himself in the second inning by spearing Nate Schierholtz's line drive.
He finished with the Brewers' seventh quality start in their last nine games. Estrada was charged with three runs on seven hits in six innings, with two walks and four strikeouts.
"It felt like my mechanics were just a little off," Estrada said. "By the fifth or the sixth, they were back and I felt much better. It was a grind today. Mentally, physically, it was a grind. It helped a lot seeing four runs up there, especially off Samardzija. He's a good pitcher."
Samardzija showed it after the Brewers' first-inning flurry. After retiring none of the first five batters he faced, Samardzija faced one batter more than the minimum through the sixth. He finally cracked in the seventh, when Gomez led off with a solo home run.
It proved a big insurance run when Rizzo led off the eighth inning against Tom Gorzelanny with a homer, cutting the lead to 5-4. The Brewers ran out of a rally in a strange bottom of the eighth inning when Segura singled, stole second base, retreated to first in a bizarre rundown, then was caught trying to steal second base again to end the inning. Closer Jim Henderson then worked the ninth for his third save.
The game ended with Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy throwing out Cubs newcomer Julio Borbon trying to steal second base. Borbon, claimed off waivers earlier in the day, had not arrived at Miller Park until the eighth inning and was inserted as a pinch-runner.
"We've played well," Braun said. "The challenge is continuing to do that. Certainly, we feel good about ourselves, we're confident and we have some momentum going."