MILWAUKEE -- Before getting to the twists and turns of the final two innings in the Brewers' 4-3 win over the Cubs on Monday afternoon at Miller Park -- from the first home run by a left-handed hitter off Josh Hader to Mike Moustakas' tying four-pitch walk to Christian Yelich's
MILWAUKEE -- Before getting to the twists and turns of the final two innings in the Brewers' 4-3 win over the Cubs on Monday afternoon at Miller Park -- from the first home run by a left-handed hitter off Josh Hader to Mike Moustakas' tying four-pitch walk to Christian Yelich's winning dash down the first-base line -- pause for a moment to see the big picture.
This was a heck of a September baseball game between two teams hunting for October -- something the Cubs and Brewers have had a knack for producing in this ballpark the past two years.
"You better make sure you have a ticket," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell, "because that's how the games have finished pretty routinely."
The Brewers' 10th walk-off win this season was their 10th victory in 14 games, and boosted them within four games of division-leading Chicago with five more head-to-head contests looming over the next nine days.
In the NL Wild Card race, the Cardinals lost in extra innings at Washington, so the frontrunning Brewers' advantage grew to 1 1/2 games.
"They're good," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "They're very good, and they beat us at the end. This is what we expect moving forward. When we have the opportunity to win games late with the lead, we have to do that."
Jeremy Jeffress kept Chicago off the board in the top of the ninth to set up the Brewers' station-to-station victory. With Steve Cishek on the mound for the Cubs, a walk (Erik Kratz), a hit batsman (Orlando Arcia), a passed ball and another hit batsman (Lorenzo Cain) loaded the bases for a one-out showdown between left-hander Jesse Chavez and NL Player of the Week Yelich.
Yelich, who hit his first career grand slam 24 hours earlier in a win at Washington, nearly hit another, only to see his fly ball hook foul. He instead won the game with a sharp grounder to third baseman Kristopher Bryant, who had more choices than he had time to think.
Go home to get the sure out? Or go for a double play?
Bryant's instincts told him to try the latter. He scrambled to third base to step on the bag and threw across the diamond to first.
"I saw him go to third, so I just started busting it, man," Yelich said. "You've got to find a way to get there. And I was able to beat it."
Yelich's sprint speed topped out at 30.8 feet per second (significantly higher than his 28.5 ft/sec average), and he was clocked from home to first in 4.18 seconds.
Yelich's teammates mobbed him.
"It was like the perfect storm with a plus-plus runner at third [pinch-runner Keon Broxton], plus-runner hitting," Bryant said. "It took me right to third. If it was a little closer to the bag, step on third, throw it to first. You just have to make a decision there, snap decision, and that's the one I think most third basemen would make going towards the bag. I don't even know how I caught the ball in the first place. It was a tough play
"Looking back on it, I don't know what I'd do differently. Obviously, you have to try to get the out at home. Talking to [catcher Willson Contreras] and some of the guys, they said, 'I don't know if you would've had a play [at home].' You've got to live with it, it's tough."
It was a seesaw affair settled after Cole Hamels delivered six more good innings for the Cubs, and Zach Davies returned from a long injury hiatus to pitch five strong frames for the Brewers.
Run-scoring singles for Cain and Yelich in the bottom of the fifth off Hamels came just in time for the Brewers to hand a 2-1 lead to a well-rested Hader, who carved through two perfect innings on 17 pitches and was one out away from getting a lead to the ninth before the Cubs landed the game's biggest punch.
Anthony Rizzo's two-out, two-run home run off Hader gave the Cubs a 3-2 lead, but the Brewers loaded the bases in each of their final two innings to come out ahead. Moustakas' walk against C.J. Edwards in a fiery eighth inning tied the game, and Yelich's fielder's-choice grounder in the ninth won it.
The Brewers have won four of their last six games against the Cubs after losing seven of the first eight.
"That's what baseball is about right there, coming down the stretch," said Moustakas. "Going to the end of this month and hopefully into the postseason, it's going to be a lot of fun. That was a good time out there today."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Rizzo vs. Hader: As Rizzo stepped to the plate with Ian Happ on base after a walk, left-handed hitters had never homered against Hader in 156 Major League plate appearances. That changed when Rizzo turned on a 2-1 fastball, 94 mph up in the strike zone and on the inside edge of the plate, and hit it to the right-field concourse for a 3-2 Cubs lead.
"I probably could have gone a little bit higher," said Hader. "But I was trying to go inside on him and get his hands. The pitch before that I went up and in and got the swing. Just trying to go back inside on him. Professional hitter. It was off the plate, and he did what he had to do with it. That's the game of baseball. We got the win, and the end result is what matters."
Said Rizzo: "He is the best. It's a tough matchup every time. He's got a plus fastball and plus slider. I was lucky to run into one there and put us ahead."
Cubs' tempers flare: Maddon was ejected by home-plate umpire Gabe Morales two pitches into Moustakas' pinch-hit appearance in the eighth inning, and Edwards was ejected two pitches later while walking off the mound in the wake of Moustakas' run-scoring walk.
Edwards, who surrendered singles to pinch-hitting Curtis Granderson -- his first with the Brewers -- and Cain to start that inning, struck out Yelich and Jesus Aguilar before walking Ryan Braun on a contested curveball above the strike zone.
"I knew I had the advantage because the bases were loaded, so he had to make a good pitch," Moustakas said. "You're just trying to get a good pitch to hit, and if he doesn't throw it, you just take your base and the ballgame's tied."
YELICH AND MORE YELICH
Add Yelich's first walk-off RBI in a Brewers uniform to his growing highlight reel. He has reached safely in an NL-best 20 straight games and is hitting .356 with 16 home runs, 40 RBIs and a .729 slugging percentage since the All-Star break -- third in the NL in average, tied for first in home runs and leading the league in RBIs and slugging. Major League Baseball named him NL Player of the Week during the game.
"He's one of the best players I've ever seen play the game right now," Moustakas said. "He's been hot for a long time, and he's carrying this ballclub -- offense, defense, obviously on the basepaths in the ninth inning to win a ballgame. He's doing everything phenomenal right now."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Davies allowed one run on four hits with one walk and seven strikeouts in five innings, getting one notable defensive assist in the fifth when Braun made a diving catch to take a hit away from Daniel Murphy.
"I turned around and couldn't believe it," Davies said.
• Baez saluted Davies after striking out
HE SAID IT
"We know we've got to win the series against them to realistically have a shot against them concerning the division. But there's two ways to get in from our perspective, and the other way for us just involves racking up wins. Racking up wins any way you can. That makes you get into a day-by-day mentality, for sure." -- Counsell
He's not flashy, but Wade Miley has been incredibly consistent for the Brewers when healthy. He's allowed three or fewer runs in each of his 11 starts, and two or fewer runs in 10 of them heading into Tuesday's 7:10 p.m. CT first pitch against the Cubs at Miller Park. Lefty Mike Montgomery is on the mound for the Cubs, who are starting three southpaws in this series.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.