Brewers strengthen spot at top with win
Club takes three-game division lead for first time since 1990
MILWAUKEE -- Say this for the Brewers: They lead the league in late-inning drama.
Fortunately, they also lead their division, by the biggest margin they have enjoyed since the team toiled in the American League East 17 years ago. On Tuesday, the Brewers averted a soggy mess in the ninth inning for a 4-1 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field that gave them a three-game lead in the National League Central.
Prince Fielder homered for the third time in the span of five at-bats, and Jeff Suppan worked around trouble in most of his eight scoreless innings. The Brewers won their fourth straight game and ensured their third straight series win.
But it's too early to get excited, said Suppan, who won his third straight start.
"Your focus needs to be small," he said. "You don't worry about the other things going on around you. You go out and make that game the most important game. Do whatever you have to do to get the job done. That's the game within the game."
Still, with the Brewers on an early roll it is difficult not to look at the big picture. With Houston's loss earlier in the day, first-place Milwaukee took its first three-game division lead since May 4, 1990. The team was off that day but had defeated the Royals the day before behind pitching performances by Jamie Navarro and Dan Plesac and homers by Robin Yount and Rob Deer.
The Brewers have not been in first place this late in a season since 1998. They have not been six games over .500 since between ends of a doubleheader at Pittsburgh on July 2, 2004.
So can't fans get even a little excited?
"You can ask me again in September," said Brewers outfielder Kevin Mench, who also homered Tuesday but was involved in the ninth-inning drama. "It's good to get out to an early lead, don't get me wrong, but we still have a long way to go. I don't even care what the standings say right now. I just want to win baseball games."
They did that on Tuesday, but as usual had to weather some late intrigue.
Leading, 4-0, in the ninth inning, the Brewers called for Derrick Turnbow, who notched the save on Monday night. With two outs, Turnbow walked pinch-hitter Daryle Ward, and Mark DeRosa followed with what looked off the bat to be a game-ending flyout to Mench in left field.
|"He doesn't rattle. He knows he's always one pitch away from getting out of it ... and he makes that pitch. He should be 5-0."|
|-- Manager Ned Yost, on Jeff Suppan|
"It was like a monsoon out there. Plus, the grass is like three feet thick," Mench said in his defense. "I just looked at it on video. That's pretty funny."
Suddenly presented with a save opportunity, the Brewers called for closer Francisco Coredero, who struck out Cliff Floyd to end the game. Cordero notched his eighth save.
"It was nasty out there at the end," Yost said. "The rain was really coming down pretty hard."
Fielder, who homered twice in the final four innings of Monday's comeback win, this time gave the Brewers an early lead with his two-run home run off Cubs left-hander Rich Hill (3-1), who entered the day with the Majors' best ERA. Fielder's fifth home run of the year was enough for Suppan, who won his third straight start by holding the Cubs scoreless on eight hits in a season-best eight innings. Suppan walked one and struck out three.
"You knew tonight was going to be a battle, especially with Hill throwing," said Mench. "'Soup' went out and did everything that was asked of him. We were able to get him some runs and he kind of found a comfort zone from there."
Hill had allowed only one run in his three previous starts this season, a Corey Hart homer on April 6 at Miller Park. Fielder doubled that total on one swing when he lifted an 0-and-2 curveball into the right-field bleachers in the fourth inning, snapping Hill's scoreless-innings streak at 19.
"That was a bad pitch," Hill said. "That's what he should do is hit it out."
The homer scored J.J. Hardy, whose double snapped Hill's streak of 10 consecutive batters retired to start the game.
Mench added a solo home run in the sixth, his second this season and one of his two hits on the night, and Rickie Weeks hit a two-out RBI single in the seventh that knocked Hill out of the game. The Cubs lefty was charged with four runs on six hits and three walks while striking out five.
"Prince and Mench did something that I didn't think could be done tonight, and that's drive balls in the stands," Yost said. "I didn't see that happening. I was really shocked when Prince hit his."
That's because unlike Mench's somewhat low line drive, Fielder's was a high fly ball into the wind. If not for the wind, where would the baseball have landed? Fielder declined to hazard a guess.
"As long as they go out, it's fine with me," he said.
The Cubs had lots of chances against Suppan. They put a runner in scoring position in the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings but were unable to score each time. Suppan escaped a bases-loaded jam in the second inning with a double play, the first of three twin-killings on a very good night for the Brewers' defense. Suppan initiated one of them in the fifth inning when he fielded Hill's bunt back to the mound and started a 1-6-4 double play.
"My defense was in every pitch and they did an outstanding job," Suppan said. "There were some tough plays."
Is it possible to rattle this guy?
"No. He's a veteran," Yost said. "He doesn't rattle. He knows he's always one pitch away from getting out of it ... and he makes that pitch. He should be 5-0."
Suppan buckled down late and retired the final nine hitters he faced. He threw 115 total pitches.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.