MILWAUKEE -- Craig Counsell described his Brewers as "a little bit of a high-wire act" on Friday afternoon, which seemed an apt description as the team bounced around the infield a few hours later for the second time this week.
Orlando Arcia's one-out single in the bottom of the ninth inning finished a 5-4 win over the Cubs at Miller Park that saw a big hit from reliever Josh Hader, of all people, help to snap Milwaukee's 22-inning scoring drought. Twice in the past four games, the Brewers have walked off by that same score against the Cardinals and Cubs, their chief rivals. In two intervening losses, they did not score a single run.
"We've been a little bit of a high-wire act for a little over a year now," Counsell said. "That's exciting, it's maddening, it's frustrating. It's entertaining baseball, I think -- even on the nights it doesn't work out.
"You want more, for sure."
Much more of this, and the Brewers might have to start handing out blood pressure medication. For the first time in franchise history, four of their first five victories have been decided in the final at-bat. There was a 10-inning win in San Diego on Opening Day on an Arcia single, and Ryan Braun's dramatic, three-run home run to cap a five-run rally in the ninth inning the next day. Then there were back-to-back home runs from Christian Yelich and Braun with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning on Tuesday against the Cardinals, and Arcia again against the Cubs on Friday night.
Arcia punched a single off Mike Montgomery over Chicago's five-man infield to score Manny Pina, who had started the winning rally with a one-out walk and had taken third on Kristopher Bryant's throwing error.
"From the moment I'm in that circle, I'm focusing on the situation and focusing on the at-bat," Arcia said, "and thankfully, it's gone my way both times."
"The ninth inning is our inning," said Brewers third baseman Travis Shaw. "If we keep it close until the ninth, we've got a shot."
Eric Thames and Shaw hit two-run home runs off Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks for the Brewers' first runs since Yelich and Braun went deep to beat the Cardinals, only to see the Cubs pull even on a circus play in the sixth, with Javier Baez circling the bases on an RBI triple and a tough-luck throwing error by Eric Sogard that caromed off Baez's helmet-less head.
With Brewers closer Corey Knebel out due to a hamstring injury and Friday starter Brandon Woodruff limited to 3 2/3 innings because his pitch count soared to 95, Counsell leaned once again on a bullpen that has limited opponents to nine earned runs and 28 hits in 36 2/3 innings so far.
Hader, Jeremy Jeffress and Matt Albers each worked beyond one inning to give Brewers hitters chances to win the game late. Albers was going two innings no matter what, and expended 34 pitches to hold the Cubs scoreless in the eighth and ninth.
After striking out Kyle Schwarber to end the top of the ninth, the mild-mannered Albers gestured dramatically toward the dugout.
"I was trying to fire up the troops a little bit," he said.
Maybe it worked.
"That was the high wire, there's no question," Counsell said. "Look, it was a fun baseball game. We played with tremendous heart."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Pitchers who rake: The Brewers needed something, anything, to wake an offense that had slumbered for 22 consecutive scoreless innings. Left-handed reliever Hader provided the hit off Hendricks that got them going. Hader's first career hit was a single leading off the fifth inning, two batters before Thames' tying home run. Two batters after that, Shaw hit another two-run shot for a 4-2 Brewers lead.
"I just closed my eyes and it happened to be a base hit," Hader said. "We came along today. Two big homers and we pulled through."
Baez circles the bases: Baez, the Cubs' spark plug in Thursday's series opener, tied the game in the sixth when he lined a two-out RBI triple and scored on Sogard's relay throw off Baez's head -- a tough-luck way to be charged with the Brewers' seventh error in their last three games. It gave Baez three RBIs and three runs scored in his first seven plate appearances of the series, and opened the door to second-guessing a pitching change just ahead of the Baez at-bat. Hader had retired six of the seven men he faced and was at 41 pitches, but Counsell wanted a right-on-right matchup against Baez with two outs and a runner at second base. So he called for Jeffress, and Baez circled the bases to tie the game at 4-4.
"I thought Josh had emptied his tank on the previous two hitters," Counsell explained. "He was up over 40 pitches, it was the third inning of work he'd been in, and I just thought it was time. It was [Jeffress] for Baez before the inning started."
"We know they're going to be there all year. Top of this division with us, it's going to be a battle all year long. We know they're deep and a resilient bunch. What they did last year brought them together. We have to be on it, game in, game out, regardless of [which players] they lose." -- Hendricks, when asked if the Brewers will struggle without closer Corey Knebel
"This is part of the roller coaster, part of the ride. This is what the baseball season is. There are going to be tough games, there are going to be games that are a ton of fun like this, there are going to be ordinary games, but this is the ride we're on. We'll try to thrill you every night, but this one counts for a couple." -- Counsell
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
According to Elias, the last team to have four of its first five wins come in its final-inning at-bat was the 2011 Royals in Ned Yost's first full season managing Kansas City.
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Brian Duensing took over in the Brewers' sixth and walked Sogard. Cain then doubled down the left-field line. The Cubs challenged that the ball was foul, but after a review, the call was confirmed.
Zach Davies called it "one of the worst games to go out there and not have your stuff" after struggling in a loss to the Cardinals in Milwaukee's home opener. He gets a chance for redemption against the Cubs beginning at 3:05 p.m. CT on Saturday. Davies has a 3.90 ERA in 10 career starts against the Cubs.
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