05/09/07 12:27 AM ET
Brewers play home run derby
Fielder, Hardy and Estrada go yard in the victory
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
It's only May.
That may be the case, but with a home run-fueled, 6-4 win over the Nationals on Tuesday, the Brewers improved on their Major League-best record (23-10), won their fifth straight game and ensured their ninth consecutive series win or split. They have lost only one of their 11 series this season.
So if you're a believer that "win the series" is a good way to go about the long season, then the Brewers appear headed in the right direction. Someone in a Brewers' uniform finally admitted as much.
"I'm not gonna lie to you or to myself," admitted closer Francisco Cordero, who finally surrendered a run in his 17th outing but notched his 14th save. "It's been unbelievable. It's like you don't want to leave the ballpark. You just want to take [batting practice] and play another game.
"What are we, 8-1 [on the homestand]? We're pitching great, we're hitting great, we've got great defense. We're in first place, the only team with 23 wins. This is unbelievable. I feel great and I hope this continues. We're doing everything we can, and everything is in our heads to make it happen."
The only thing one Brewers player didn't do well Tuesday was deliver a clean postgame interview.
"We're going to try to keep it going as long as we can," said first baseman Prince Fielder. "Try to put the ball on the barrel ... the bat on the barrel ... put the ball on the barrel."
He was going for, "put the barrel on the ball." Fielder might not have been able to say it but he did it again on Tuesday, hitting a three-run home run in the sixth inning that snapped a 1-1 tie that had stood since the second. It was his team-best 10th home run.
The Nationals rallied for two runs in the seventh, but Johnny Estrada and J.J. Hardy added solo home runs in the bottom of the eighth inning that loomed large when Cordero finally gave up a run. Pitching a fourth straight day, Cordero surrendered a leadoff double in the ninth to Robert Fick, who later scored with two outs when Cordero spiked a fastball in the dirt, past Estrada. Still, Cordero remained a perfect 14-for-14 in save opportunities and saw his ERA rise to a still-respectable 0.57.
Estrada finished with three hits and two RBIs and Hardy also had two hits including his ninth homer, and with a double in the sixth he extended his hitting streak to 19 games and tied for the fourth-longest streak in club history.
During the Brewers' five-game winning streak, Fielder and Hardy have combined for seven home runs.
"It's hard for me to say that the kids are doing it all, because they're not," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "It's a very nice blend, what's going on between the young guys and the veteran guys."
Starter Dave Bush (3-3) surrendered a leadoff home run to Felipe Lopez but then blanked Washington until the seventh. In 6 2/3 innings Bush was charged with three runs on seven hits, and he snapped a two-start losing streak.
"It didn't start the way I wanted it to, but I was pretty confident that the offense was going to put some runs on the board," Bush said. "After that first hitter I was able to settle down and throw strikes. That's typically the way things are going for me when they're going well; I'm able to throw fastballs for strikes and then mix my other pitches in."
Minus a Gabe Gross miscue in the seventh, the Brewers played solid defense behind Bush and three Brewers relievers. Second baseman Rickie Weeks helped Bush escape a two-on, no-out jam in the second inning by fielding a Nook Logan grounder, tagging Fick between first and second base and then firing to Fielder to complete a close double play.
In the fourth, Fick hit a bloop single to shallow right field and tried to stretch it to a double, but Weeks threw him out.
But Bush would have gotten through the seventh inning with only two runs on his pitching line if not for some spotty defense. With two outs in the inning, right fielder Gross, who moments earlier had made a nice leaping catch to limit pinch-hitter Kory Casto to a sacrifice fly instead of an extra-base hit, badly misjudged what should have been an inning-ending flyout by Felipe Lopez. Gross broke in on the ball, froze momentarily, then retreated too late and watched the ball sail over his head for an RBI double.
"This was the first night, with the roof open, kind of warm, that the ball was really carrying," Yost said. "It was a bit of an adjustment for the outfielders. I think in another day or two, Gabe catches that ball and Bush does get out of there with a 4-3 lead."
Instead the lead was cut to 4-3, but reliever Matt Wise came in to retire Cristian Guzman on a groundout to strand the potential tying run in scoring position. Derrick Turnbow worked a scoreless eighth inning and Cordero worked the ninth.
Losing pitcher Jason Simontacchi (0-1) made his first Major League appearance since 2004 and allowed four runs on six hits in six innings.
Most of the Brewers had showered and left when the Cubs lost their extra-inning marathon to the Pirates at Wrigley Field. That gave the Brewers a 6 1/2 game lead in the National League Central and matched the widest division lead in Milwaukee's 38-year franchise history, a mark set in 1982 when the Brewers were on the way to the World Series.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.