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STL@MIL: Hart's homer gives Brew Crew their first run

MILWAUKEE -- "Everybody has to chase the champs," Brewers center fielder Nyjer Morgan said during the run up to his club's rematch with the Cardinals.

With one weekend of 2012 baseball in the books, it looks like Morgan was right.

The World Series champions won the rematch of last year's National League Championship Series by taking Sunday's opening series rubber match, 9-3, behind an eye-opening start from converted reliever Lance Lynn. The Cardinals opened the season with a win in Miami before traveling to Milwaukee and are 3-1, sitting atop the NL Central and looking every bit a contender, even without Albert Pujols.

"I feel like there's a reason they won the World Series, and they have a great team again," said Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun, who hit his first home run in the ninth inning with the game already out of reach. "Certainly, they're going to be in it all year. We have the same expectation."

Lynn limited the Brewers to a Braun single and Corey Hart's booming home run over 6 2/3 mostly stress-free innings to beat Randy Wolf in both pitchers' season debut.

Hart was a bright spot in the series for Milwaukee. After a Spring Training abbreviated by March 6 knee surgery, he hit safely in all three games against St. Louis, with a trio of home runs that traveled a total of 1,292 feet. Hart's 432-footer off Lynn in the fifth inning temporarily cut the Brewers' deficit to 3-1.

Lynn responded to that blast by striking out the next four hitters he faced, and finished the day with eight strikeouts versus one walk.

"I made a mistake pitch to a guy who is swinging the bat really well right now," Lynn said of his fastball to Hart. "That will wake you up and get you right back to where you need to be."

The Cardinals pulled away against a line of Brewers relievers, adding two runs in the seventh inning on Carlos Beltran's two-run home run, another run in the eighth and three more in the ninth on Shane Robinson's three-run homer.

The ninth inning got ugly for the Brewers. Manager Ron Roenicke called on closer John Axford to get some work with a 6-2 deficit, and Axford struck out two batters, walked two and was lifted after 27 pitches because the Brewers don't have an off-day until April 16.

Robinson greeted Axford's replacement, Kameron Loe, by belting his first career homer.

"I feel great about this team," Braun insisted. "We have one win more than we had last year at this point."

The Brewers started 0-4 in 2011, and went on to win 96 regular-season games and the NL Central.

The 24-year-old Lynn made only his third Major League start and his third regular-season appearance against the Brewers, but was not exactly an unknown. In addition to 2 2/3 scoreless regular-season relief innings in 2011, he faced the Brewers in five of the six NLCS games, allowing three hits and no runs.

Still, he managed to surprise the Brewers on Sunday.

"Honestly, he did," Braun said. "I was surprised that somebody could transition from the bullpen to a starter and maintain his stuff. His velocity was consistently in the mid-90s. He has really good command of his fastball to both sides of the plate, and last year he didn't throw much of his slider/cutter pitch, whatever he was throwing today. He really threw that pitch well today. I was impressed."

Left-hander Wolf (0-1) needed 108 pitches over five innings. He allowed three earned runs on nine hits, with one walk and seven strikeouts.

"Not as bad as how many hits they got," Roenicke said of Wolf's outing. "I didn't think they squared up a ton of balls off him."

Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday had the only extra-base hit off Wolf, an RBI double in the first inning. Each of the five hitters atop the Cardinals' batting order drove in at least one run, and combined to go 10-for-23.

That, after Zack Greinke and two relievers shut out the Cardinals on Saturday.

"They have a good, balanced lineup, they really do," Wolf said. "I'm not saying they are, but I really hope they're peaking now, because they look really good. The Beltran addition is a big addition. [Rafael] Furcal is where he left off. [David] Freese, the same way. Holliday is the one guy who is not on fire like the rest of them, but he is going to be one of their top hitters. So, I don't think anyone went into the series thinking they were going to be less of an offensive threat without Albert. They're still going to be really good."

The story was more mixed for Brewers hitters, but Braun provided a highlight. He drove two fly outs to the center-field warning track in the middle innings before depositing his first home run of the season into the left-center field bullpen in the ninth inning.

"I feel like all series I put together good at-bats," said Braun, who is 4-for-12 to start the season.

The game also featured Norichika Aoki's first Major League hit, a single over the third baseman's head in the eighth inning. He scored on Alex Gonzalez's first Brewers hit, an RBI double that snapped Gonzalez's 0-for-9 start.

Gonzalez, the new Brewers shortstop, and new third baseman Aramis Ramirez were limited to one hit apiece in the series. They will have another chance when the Brewers and Cardinals meet at Busch Stadium later this month.

"We're going to lean heavy on our pitching," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "I believe we saw enough that when the tough times come, even if they come early, we've seen enough positively that we know there is a lot in this team." Comments