video thumbnail

PIT@MIL: Ransom hammers a grand slam to take the lead

MILWAUKEE -- The most critical stretch of the Brewers' season began Friday with scouts from the Rangers, Angels and Dodgers in the seats and Zack Greinke on the mound -- No. 13 pitching on Friday the 13th, a night that was supposed to showcase a free-agent-to-be whose fate is most closely tied to the team's success over these next nine games.

Instead, the hitters stole the show, and for Brewers fans in fear of a summer sell-off, that was just fine.

All-Star slugger Ryan Braun had four hits -- including a pair of home runs -- and shortstop Cody Ransom delivered a two-strike, two-out grand slam in the eighth inning for a 10-7 win over the Pirates.

The Brewers improved to 22-1 when Greinke starts a regular-season game at Miller Park, and much more important, they marked a solid start to a nine-game, intra-division stretch that could determine whether Greinke is still wearing a Brewers uniform after 4 p.m. CT on July 31 -- the nonwaiver Trade Deadline.

"We recognize the important significance of these games; there's no reason to pretend they're less important than they are," said Braun. "We understand that these next nine games will dictate which way the rest of our season goes."

Rookie catcher Martin Maldonado had a career-high four hits and Braun's own four-hit night included two solo home runs, plus an infield single in the eighth inning that sparked Milwaukee's winning rally against Pittsburgh left-hander Tony Watson.

Aramis Ramirez also singled, and paired with Braun on a double steal before Rickie Weeks took an intentional walk. That decision loaded the bases for Ransom -- a waiver claim back in May who has played solid defense for the Brewers, but entered the day batting .214 -- to deliver his first career grand slam. It snapped a 6-6 tie that had stood since the sixth.

"The Brewers, they've got a lot to get going in the second half," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "They came out, and it was a good ballgame until one swing of the bat proved all the separation."

That swing garnered Ransom a curtain call, his first since he homered in his first at-bat with the Yankees in 2008.

"I'll take that one," he said.

At the start, Greinke was the star attraction. Rangers special assistant Scott Littlefield and Angels special assignment scout Larry Corrigan were among the baseball men who happened to be in attendance to see Greinke start the Brewers' third straight game -- the first pitcher to turn that trick in a single season since "Red" Faber for the 1917 White Sox. Faber started both games of a doubleheader against Detroit one day, then pitched all nine innings in St. Louis the next. Greinke, ejected from a Saturday start in Houston before pitching again on Sunday, at least had the benefit of the All-Star break before taking the mound again on Friday.

"He's starting again [Saturday]," Braun joked. "I don't know if you guys heard."

It added a wrinkle to Greinke's already-interesting July. He is a free agent at season's end, and with no signs of progress toward a contract extension with the Brewers, would be Milwaukee's most desirable trade chip by far.

These nine games could nudge Brewers general manager Doug Melvin in a certain direction. The Brewers play the Pirates, Cardinals and Reds, the three teams they currently trail in the National League Central.

It's not exactly a situation conducive to playing relaxed baseball.

"No, it's not," manager Ron Roenicke conceded before the game.

But...

"But, their side knows how important these games are for them," Roenicke said, pointing toward the visitor's clubhouse and the first-place Pirates, "and we know how important they are for us, so I don't think there's any difference in how you go about it. We were in a position last year where we should be used to fighting for something."

The Brewers came out fighting against Pirates starter James McDonald, scoring three runs in a first inning that included the first of Braun's homers, and a double by Weeks that resulted in two runs and a batting average that began with the number two. Weeks, who ended the night at an even .200, had been hitting in the .100s since April 29.

The Pirates mounted a comeback against Greinke, scoring an unearned run in the third inning after Greinke walked the opposing pitcher, and four more in the fourth after a trio of bloop singles preceded Neil Walker's three-run home run.

Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez added a solo homer in the fifth inning, marking the first time since Game 2 of last year's NL Division Series against the D-backs that Greinke surrendered more than one home run in a game.

In all, Greinke was charged with six runs, five earned, in five innings, and Pittsburgh climbed back from an early 3-0 deficit to take leads of 5-3 and 6-4 against him.

"I didn't pitch perfect, by any means, but I would take that at least over 50 percent of the time, pitching like that," Greinke said. "They capitalized on all of their opportunities, but in the end of things, we did the same to them."

His ERA rose from 3.08 to 3.57 during his run of three starts in as many team games. Someday, Greinke said, he will look back with fondness on his rare achievement.

"I wish the three games went better on my part, but we won two out of three," Greinke said. "So I guess you can't be too upset about that. It was pretty neat, even though I [stunk] for the most part. Right now, it doesn't feel as good as it will five years from now."

MLB.com Comments