CHICAGO -- This seemed to be the kind of victory that demonstrated the difference between a team that was merely good and a team that could actually win something.
The Milwaukee Brewers had been kicked around in a 14-run loss on Wednesday night, and stopped cold for eight innings on Thursday afternoon. But in the ninth inning on Thursday, they rallied for three runs to defeat their division rivals, the Cubs, 4-3.
"This is the type of the game that we wouldn't necessarily have won last year," said left fielder Ryan Braun, who supplied the game-winning, two-run double in the ninth.
That may be exactly the point. This young but extremely talented team proved last year that it could contend for a division title. The next step, the bigger step, is winning one and reaching the postseason.
Sometimes, the difficult, improbable victories point the way. This one would qualify. After a 19-5 pasting on Wednesday night, the Brewers were halted for one run in 6 1/3 innings by Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano. Setup man Carlos Marmol didn't exactly waver, either, striking out four Brewers in 1 2/3 innings.
The Brewers were kept in the game by a gutsy performance by starter Yovani Gallardo, who shook off what looked like a potentially ghastly ankle/knee injury to work six innings for a quality start. Still, the Brewers were down, 3-1, going to the ninth, and had to face the truly substantial stuff of closer Kerry Wood.
Craig Counsell was hit by a pitch. Pinch-hitter Gabe Kapler doubled. Jason Kendall singled scoring Counsell. Ricky Weeks walked. Mike Cameron struck out. And then Braun delivered his double, scoring two runs. Weeks was out at the plate attempting to score on the play, but the damage had been done and the point had been made.
"It's unbelievable, a game like that, when one of the best pitchers in the league [Zambrano] is on top of his game," Braun said. "And Kerry Wood obviously has phenomenal stuff as well. So to find a way to win a game like that, it's something that could go a long way for us as a team."
This victory underscored what the Brewers believe about themselves, that they have matured into a group that will not fold in the face of adversity, that will persevere inning-to-inning, game-to-game, for as long as it takes.
"This team, we talk about it all the time, and I know people get tired of hearing it, but they get in the ninth inning and they keep pushing," manager Ned Yost said. "That's what happens when you keep pushing, you keep battling, you keep believing that you can win a ballgame."
"We keep battling," said closer Eric Gagne, who worked the ninth for his ninth save. "We have the weapons in this lineup where we can not show up for eight innings and then come up big."
Braun's crucial at-bat may have been a microcosm of the team's resilient nature. On the first pitch, he swung and missed at a nasty slider and was not particularly close. The next pitch was a 96 mph fastball, but Braun was all over it, driving it over the head of Kosuke Fukudome to the wall in right.
"That just shows you what type of hitter he is right there," Yost said. "He never comes off the attack. You think a guy would swing and miss at a slider by three feet like he did, you would think to yourself: 'OK, make sure you don't do that again.' That doesn't enter his mind. All he's looking to do is see the ball and hit it hard. And that's why he's successful."
The Brewers are still one game behind the Cubs in the National League Central standings. But they can take something out of the fact that they are 4-2 against the Cubs this season, they have won two series against the Cubs and all six games have been at Wrigley Field. Why all six games have been in Wrigley Field, primarily played in what amounted to winter weather, when the park with the retractable roof is just up the road in Milwaukee is a question that has been frequently asked, but never adequately answered.
But the issue here is the Brewers being able to beat the Cubs, the 2007 NL Central winners, in Chicago. The Brewers struggled on the road last year, but they have begun this season in better road form, going 9-6 away from home.
"They're big games here," Yost said. "Any time we can win on the road against the Cubs it's a big win for us."
And the way this one unfolded, the context in which it was played, and the manner in which it was won, earned the Brewers the right to feel good about themselves and their chances.
"I think it speaks volumes for our character, our resiliency as a team," Braun said. "It's a huge win, and a huge win in the series, as well."
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.