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Must C Classic: Brewers turn a triple play

MILWAUKEE -- You know it's a magical run when the Brewers -- the allegedly all-slug-no-field Brewers -- start winning games with defense.

"We don't want to get too far ahead," Prince Fielder said after the Brewers increased their lead in the National League Central with Monday's 3-0 win over the Dodgers. "But some of the things we've been able to do, it's like, 'Wow.' It seems things are working out right."

They worked out right again on Monday, when baseball's hottest team stayed that way with another solid Randy Wolf start, three solo homers and, for a change, a dose of defense that supplied a historic footnote to the victory.

The sixth triple play in franchise history and Ryan Braun's go-ahead home run highlighted the Brewers' 17th win in 19 games, but most important was this: The first-place Brewers pushed a season-high six games ahead of the Cardinals in the NL Central after St. Louis lost in Pittsburgh.

When it was all over, the Brewers had augmented the triple play with four double plays, including a game-ending gem by Fielder, who snared a line drive and stepped on first base to seal John Axford's 35th save.

The four double plays made the Brewers the first team to execute a triple play and four double plays in the same game since the Yankees at the St. Louis Browns on July 17, 1953.

"The defense won that game," manager Ron Roenicke said.

A crowd of 38,551 witnessed history when four defenders combined for the triple play in the second inning. Second baseman Josh Wilson scooped up James Loney's ground ball and flipped it, hands-free, to shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt for out No. 1. Betancourt threw to Fielder for out No. 2. Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, who'd begun the play at second base, tried to sneak home, but Fielder threw home to catcher George Kottaras in time for the inning-ending tag.

It was the team's first triple play since Casey McGehee-to-Felipe Lopez-to-Fielder highlighted a Brewers win over the Giants in September 2009. Before that, Milwaukee had gone more than a decade without turning three.

It was not the Brewers' only gem, as Wolf was gifted with glovework not always flashed by a club that entered the night ranked 23rd in the Majors in fielding percentage and 15th in defensive efficiency, the rate at which balls put into play are converted into outs.

A 6-4-3 double play ended the Dodgers' first inning. In the third, the only one of the first five innings in which the Brewers did not at least turn two, center fielder Jerry Hairston Jr. threw out Dodgers catcher Dioner Navarro at the plate. In the fourth, Hairston caught Kemp's shallow fly ball with a dive in right-center, then threw to first base for another inning-ending double play. In the fifth, Fielder fielded a Loney chopper and sparked a 3-6-1 double play, with Wolf hustling to cover first base.

By then, Braun's home run off Dodgers starter Ted Lilly had given the Brewers a one-run lead.

"The first five innings, it was the Jerry Hairston and Ryan Braun show," Kemp said. "It is what it is. They made some great plays out there -- [throwing] the ball really good. Making diving catches and getting double plays and triple plays."

The defense helped Wolf work eight scoreless innings despite allowing six hits and five walks. He has won each of his last four starts.

Braun supplied the lead with a two-out, two-strike homer off Lilly in the fourth inning, a rare blemish in an otherwise sensational start. Lilly allowed only two hits -- both to Braun -- in seven innings but lost his third straight start. He has a 1.71 ERA in those games, and the Dodgers have scored three total runs for him.

"It was a good pitch, I think. I just kind of reacted to it," Braun said of his 23rd home run. "I watched the replay. I think he was trying to go up and in, and I think he did get it up and in. ... It's one of those streaks where we're finding ways to win games, whether we have to outslug them, outpitch them or play incredible defense, like we did tonight. We're finding different ways to win every night."

Since July 6, the Brewers are an MLB-best 26-9. They are positioned to win a division for the first time since 1982, though Roenicke has been reminding his club that there is still plenty of regular season to play.

"It's impossible not to know where we're at," Braun said. "We're all aware of it, but I don't think it's relevant yet. We're probably still a month away from really looking at where we're at in the standings."

With all that defensive help, Wolf needed only 44 pitches for five scoreless innings and entered the seventh at only the 55-pitch mark. But he struggled to preserve his shutout in a 32-pitch seventh inning, escaping with the bases loaded on Navarro's flyout.

Wolf pitched the Brewers through the eighth inning, and Axford converted his 32nd consecutive save opportunity in the ninth.

"I think this is the team we've been waiting to have," Wolf said. "You find weird ways to win when you're hot. Right now we have to realize that we're not always going to be hot, but we just have to keep on playing well."

Fielder supplied the fitting finish with his game-ending defensive gem.

"We're in the race now," Fielder said. "It's time to pick it up and get better."

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