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STL@MIL: Braun jacks his 14th homer of the season

MILWAUKEE -- It was not just the 8-0 win over the Cardinals to open a big series at Miller Park, or that the Brewers gained a game on the early-season frontrunners in the National League Central. It was the way the Brewers played Friday night that had the team's senior sage smiling.

"The big thing is, it's not going to be Prince and Braun every night," said Craig Counsell, referring to Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, the tandem with more RBIs than any teammates in baseball.

"Those guys have been unbelievable, but some nights, other guys have to step up," Counsell said. "That's just the way it is if we're going to be that team that plays in October. It's going to take everybody."

Just about everybody contributed to this series-opening win. Counsell started at shortstop, had three hits and scored three runs, the first on a safety-squeeze bunt in the third inning. High-energy center fielder Nyjer Morgan drove in two runs while boosting his team-best batting average to .351. Braun hit a two-run home run, and Corey Hart a solo shot.

Left-hander Chris Narveson did the rest, dropping the bunt that sent Counsell sprinting home and pitching the first eight innings of Milwaukee's eighth shutout this season. It came in game No. 64. The Brewers had seven shutouts in 162 games in 2010.

Narveson snapped his personal funk. He scattered six hits, matched his career high with eight innings, threw the second-most pitches of his career (115), struck out six versus one walk and won for the first time since May 14.

This win felt especially good considering that Narveson came up with the Cardinals. He's now 2-2 with a 3.07 ERA against them.

"There's always a little bit more focus, a little bit more energy when you're playing the Cardinals," Narveson said. "They're a pretty big rival, and obviously you know a win is going to get you a point in the standings."

Narveson had allowed 15 earned runs in 12 2/3 innings over his previous three starts, and manager Ron Roenicke had been fielding some questions about whether he was considering a change in the starting rotation.

But Roenicke argued that Narveson was not having bad outings, just one bad inning within those outings, and the left-hander avoided such trouble on Friday. He walked the leadoff man in the sixth but escaped with help from right fielder Hart, who made a nice catch down the foul line to retire the next hitter, Ryan Theriot. In the eighth, Narveson surrendered two singles, but struck out John Jay to end the inning.

Narveson, perhaps the most mild-mannered pitcher on the team, pumped his fist before running back to the dugout.

"Huge for him to go eight innings against a great lineup," Roenicke said. "It was kind of nice, he got in a little bit of trouble in the eighth and he was able to get out of it. I think that's really big, also.

"It was huge for me to see it, too. ... I want him to get it going. I know we're going to need him. I know he's pitched well other than the [blow-up] innings, five innings or whatever it's been. We're trying to figure out how to get him back so he throws like he did today."

Catcher Jonathan Lucroy sensed Narveson needed an outing like this.

"Especially against a team like [the Cardinals], and especially with this race we're having," Lucroy said. "It's a good start for the series and a good thing for him, personally, being able to go out and get that confidence, knowing he can put away teams of that caliber."

Coming off a series loss to the Mets, Friday's win preserved Milwaukee's status as the only Major League team without back-to-back losses at home this season. The Brewers are 23-9 at Miller Park.

Counsell's third-inning triple sparked a go-ahead rally against St. Louis starter Kyle Lohse, who would probably like it if the 40-year-old Counsell calls it a career. Counsell is 14-for-29 against the right-hander, with four extra-base hits and two walks.

He can still run a bit, too. Lucroy followed Counsell's triple with a walk, and Roenicke put on a safety squeeze with Narveson at the plate. The bunt went to the first-base side of the pitcher's mound and Counsell broke home, just beating first baseman Albert Pujols' throw with a sweet slide. Counsell struck out his left hand at the last moment and touched home plate.

"Instincts take over," Counsell said. "I knew it was going to be close, so I'm just going to the farthest place so [the catcher] has to go tag you, basically."

Was there ever any doubt he would score?

"There was a lot of doubt, yeah," Counsell said with a chuckle.

That play has been working for the Brewers. Counsell has executed two safety squeezes this season, and the Brewers won a game on May 28 on Lucroy's ninth-inning suicide squeeze. So much for being a home-run-or-bust ballclub.

"It's been a thing that's extended rallies, and it's always great to get a run like that," Counsell said."It kind of builds energy in the dugout, for sure. The fans get into it. It's always a real positive."

Those fans dig the long ball, too, and they got two of them from a Brewers club that is tied with Arizona for the most home runs (73) in the NL.

The teams played parts of the sixth, seventh and eighth innings with smoke hanging in the air at Miller Park, the result of what a Brewers spokesperson called a small fire at a concession stand. The fire was extinguished and the game continued without delay.

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