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MIL@NYM: McGehee hits a two-run single to right field

NEW YORK -- The Brewers slugged their way on Saturday to a seemingly insurmountable lead, saw it slip away, then won anyway by going station to station in the ninth inning. It was the weirdest of wins for the hottest team in baseball, an 11-9 triumph over the Mets at Citi Field that felt more like a bungee jump than a baseball game.

Or, as Prince Fielder put it, "We had a lot of fun early, then it got a little nervous, and we were able to stay together and come back. I'm just proud of my team."

There was a good deal to be proud of, plus a pair of innings to forget. The Brewers led, 7-1, entering the bottom of the seventh inning, trailed, 9-7, entering the ninth and then rallied to win on Fielder's tying single and Casey McGehee's two-run hit to tighten their chokehold on the National League Central. The Cardinals were shut out at Wrigley Field earlier in the day, so Milwaukee leads the division by 8 1/2 games, matching the 2007 Brewers for the widest division lead in franchise history.

Milwaukee has won 21 of its last 24 games overall and 12 of its last 17 road games.

"It sounds great," Fielder said of the wide division lead, "but we have to keep going."

"It's still quite a bit of a battle," closer John Axford said. "We play [the Cardinals] six more times, and six games can be a lot of ground. Putting the pressure on them, I think, is going to be a good thing for us because we're playing well and we're already a laid-back, relaxed team."

Axford logged his 37th save and has converted 34 consecutive chances. He made a winner of Francisco Rodriguez (5-2), the former Mets closer traded to Milwaukee last month who was booed upon his return to Citi Field, only to have things get worse.

The Mets had already rallied for five runs in the seventh inning against Brewers starter Randy Wolf and reliever Takashi Saito when Rodriguez took the mound with a 7-6 lead in the eighth. He was pitching for the first time in a week after being sidelined by stiffness in his legs, the price he paid for his first career hit on Aug. 12, and suffered his sixth blown save after allowing three runs.

Brewers center fielder Jerry Hairston had a chance to stall both of the Mets' rallies. In the seventh, with Milwaukee still leading, 7-4, he couldn't catch up to Jason Pridie's two-run double into the left-center-field gap. In the eighth, with two outs and Milwaukee clinging to a one-run lead, Hairston went back on Josh Thole's line drive to straightaway center. The baseball ticked off his glove for a tying double.

Angel Pagan followed with a go-ahead two-run home run. He hit a Rodriguez changeup that "did nothing" into the right-field seats.

Hairston has been starting in center field against left-handed pitchers, a role previously filled by sensational defender Carlos Gomez, who remains on the disabled list with a fractured collarbone.

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke called Hairston a "plus" center fielder and said he didn't regret resisting the urge to insert speedster Nyjer Morgan for defensive purposes.

Hairston was more upset about Thole's hit than Pridie's. He admitted he got a poor break on the ball because he could barely see it. The Mets did not turn on the lights at Citi Field until the ninth inning.

"It just knuckled on me a little bit," Hairston said. "Sometimes, when guys square it up really good, it does that. At seven o'clock, you hope they have the lights on. Off the bat, it was so dark, and that one step meant everything. I just didn't make the play, point-blank."

When Pagan followed with his homer, Brewers right fielder Corey Hart took a step or two before watching the baseball fly. In the dugout, Roenicke was seething.

"I get down about it because I'm mad at some things when we lose the lead, and these guys bounce right back and get guys on base and start getting base hits. Next thing you know, we win. That shows a really good team."

Give the Mets credit, Roenicke said.

"Hey, those guys did a nice job of battling and getting some hits," Roenicke said. "Next thing you know, we're in trouble."

The Brewers got out of trouble in the ninth with three walks and three singles against Mets closer Jason Isringhausen (3-3) and reliever Manny Acosta. Mark Kotsay worked a bases-loaded walk from Isringhausen, and Fielder and McGehee delivered run-scoring hits against Acosta to push the Brewers ahead. Fielder's single to right field tied the game, and McGehee's two-run hit won it.

Small ball won the game, but long balls dominated the early innings. The Brewers built their big lead with a trio of home runs to all fields. Ryan Braun hit a towering two-run home run to center field in the first inning, Fielder lined a third-inning three-run shot to right that was more malicious than majestic and Yuniesky Betancourt joined the fun in the sixth with a two-run shot to left.

Until Josh Wilson followed Betancourt's blast with a single, the homers were the Brewers' only hits. Fielder's was the most violent, a line drive that struck one of the seats so hard, the bang reverberated to the press box.

If Mets starter Chris Capuano was impressed, he kept it to himself.

"It's a home run," Capuano said. "If it scrapes over the wall or goes third deck, it counts for the same."

The same goes for the Brewers' win, which was just one of 75 and counting. It felt bigger than that, Wolf said.

"I told Ron after the game, 'This is a character-building game,'" Wolf said. "You can't always win the conventional way. Today, I didn't finish the job as I need to do, but the hitters came right back. That's what good teams do. Good teams, they never turn it off."

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