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ATL@MIL: Estrada hurls 6 2/3 scoreless frames

MILWAUKEE -- On the morning of April 25, Mat Gamel was the Brewers' starting first baseman and Alex Gonzalez the shortstop, John Axford was riding his remarkable saves streak and Zack Greinke was riding atop the starting rotation. The defending National League Central champions were not satisfied with a 9-9 start, but they were looking ahead at a summer filled with promise.

Who knew it would take four months and 18 days to get back to .500?

With Tuesday night's 5-0 win over the Braves at Miller Park, the Brewers finally made it. They are back to the break-even point at 71-71 with 20 regular-season games remaining.

Rickie Weeks hit Braves starter Tim Hudson's fourth pitch for a line-drive home run, Marco Estrada received a standing ovation from 27,382 fans after pitching 6 2/3 scoreless innings and the Brewers pulled away from the Braves with a three-run seventh inning for their 16th win in 18 home games, and 17th win in 22 games overall.

Now, about that NL Wild Card race.

"I know because of the distance we have, and all the teams ahead of us, that for me it's just not worth really watching that too closely," manager Ron Roenicke said. "I'd rather just watch how we're playing."

They are playing remarkably well for a team that lost Gamel and Gonzalez to season-ending injuries, saw Axford suffer through a summer of blown saves and traded away Greinke in a July move that signaled to some a shift in focus to 2013.

But then a funny thing happened: The Brewers started winning. With their current 17-5 stretch, they climbed from 12 1/2 games out of the NL's second Wild Card slot to only four games back of the Cardinals.

The Brewers still need lots of help. After Tuesday's games, the Dodgers are one game behind St. Louis, the Pirates 2 1/2 games behind and the Phillies were tied with the Brewers at four games back.

"It's what we've been waiting on all year, it seems like," Weeks said. "It's kind of hard to say, 'Better late than never,' but it's happening right now."

Other teams are taking note.

"They're playing well right now," said Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, whose club currently holds the first NL Wild Card spot. "We've just got to try and salvage this series and salvage a winning road trip tomorrow."

The Brewers will seek a sweep on Wednesday night behind Yovani Gallardo, who owns a 1.91 ERA in six career starts against Atlanta. The Brewers are 19-10 when he takes the mound this season.

On Tuesday, for the second straight night, the Brewers pulled away from the Braves in the seventh inning. After reliever Jim Henderson helped Estrada escape the top of that inning, the Brewers scored three times against Hudson to extend a 1-0 lead to 4-0, with rookie shortstop Jean Segura narrowly beating a double-play ball to keep the rally alive.

Credit Carlos Gomez, too. He slid hard into Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons at second base.

"'Gomey' went in hard," Roenicke said. "I was surprised [Simmons] got off the throw as well as he did, and on the money like he did."

One run scored when Segura was safe at first, and pinch-hitter Taylor Green and red-hot leadoff man Norichika Aoki followed with consecutive two-out, run-scoring hits for insurance. Aramis Ramirez added his 23rd home run in the eighth to complete the scoring.

Estrada won for the third time in four decisions by outdueling Hudson and enduring some scares. Jason Heyward and Jones hit deep drives to the warning track with a runner on base in the sixth inning and the Brewers still clinging to a 1-0 lead. In the seventh, Estrada retired former Brewer Lyle Overbay for the second out on a similarly deep drive.

Aoki made that catch with his back against the wall.

"When he caught that, I jumped up," Estrada said. "I was really excited. I told myself, 'Let's get this next guy and get out of here.'"

But Roenicke figured 102 pitches and four fly-ball outs against the last five Braves hitters were enough for Estrada, so Henderson was summoned for the final out of the seventh inning.

Relievers Francisco Rodriguez and Brandon Kintzler finished the Brewers' seventh shutout this season.

"We've got the team to go all the way. We've been saying that all year," said Estrada, who began the season in the bullpen. "I know we struggled a bit early, but we're showing it now. We're doing it exactly when we need to. Hopefully we catch everybody."

The first step was getting to .500.

"Obviously, it's nice to get there," Roenicke said. "The more important thing that I'm excited about is the way we're playing."

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