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09/05/07 1:10 AM ET

Brewers rebound, close in on Cubs

After Villanueva comes up big, Cordero sets saves mark

MILWAUKEE -- Behind a starter fresh from Triple-A and a closer who set the franchise saves record, the Brewers rebounded in a big way Tuesday night and pulled back to within a half-game of first place in the National League Central.

If only the fans in the stands would enjoy it, lamented another hurler who figured in a 5-3 win over the Astros at Miller Park.

"This is a good team, and I think it's kind of a working man's mentality and we're pulling together," said Scott Linebrink, who drew the game's only boos after manager Ned Yost left him in the game with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh. "Everybody is doing their part to pick up the next guy, and whether the crowd wants to get behind us, we're going to do our best to win."

Despite the boos, the Brewers did just that Tuesday, marking the team's fourth victory in five games. Carlos Villanueva (7-3) worked six strong innings for the win, Ryan Braun hit his 27th home run, to move within one of the franchise rookie record, and Francisco Cordero set a club record with his 40th save.

The Cubs lost, while the Brewers and Cardinals won, leaving three teams within one game of first place in the National League Central. The Cubs lead the division, followed by the Brewers one-half game back and the Cards a full game out.

"There's not a lot of teams that I've seen in a fight for the division in control of the ballgame the whole time, never lose the lead and still get booed," said Linebrink, who surrendered two unearned runs in the seventh inning after second baseman Rickie Weeks committed his second error of the game, but nonetheless escaped with a 4-3 lead.

"It's certainly a boost for us to play in front of a full ballpark," Linebrink said. "If they decided to root for us, that would be even better."

Right-hander Villanueva gave them something to root for, delivering six strong innings while holding Houston to one run and setting a career high with six strikeouts.

It was a pleasantly surprising outing from Villanueva, 23, who made his second spot start of the season and was expected to throw 70-75 pitches but instead threw 95. He replaced rookie left-hander Manny Parra after Parra broke his thumb last week on a bunt attempt, and with Claudio Vargas also on the disabled list, Villanueva will remain in the rotation. Villanueva has spent most of this season in relief, but he was optioned to Triple-A Nashville late last month to start after a series of poor outings.

"I told [catcher] Johnny [Estrada] that I'm not going to have a pitch count for [Villanueva]," Yost said. "We've got three weeks to go, [and] it's time to go. He had been pitching all-year long, and I felt he would give us everything he had for as long as he had it."

Villanueva made 49 of his 50 previous appearances this season in relief.

"I feel like I'm home, I guess" Villanueva said of the starting role. "I've been doing this for so many years, and it's nice to be in a regular routine."

Astros right-hander Brandon Backe (0-1), who was making his first start since undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery last Sept. 7, surrendered four runs, only three of them earned, on eight hits in 5 2/3 innings. After Braun hit a first-inning home run into the extreme left-field corner, the Brewers got an unearned run in the second when first baseman Lance Berkman's throwing error allowed Villanueva to score from third base.

"I've always welcomed the pressure it brings. I like it. We're pitching and playing for something right now."
-- Carlos Villanueva, on the pennant race

That half-inning might have been Villanueva's biggest test.

"That inning I had to run the bases, the two innings after that I didn't feel good, to tell the truth," Villanueva said. "I finally felt better by the sixth. The sixth inning was the best I've felt all night."

Some red flags shot up in that inning, when Villanueva issued a dreaded two-out walk. But Yost left him in the game to face Ty Wigginton, and Villanueva retired Wigginton on a called strike three changeup.

"Just the fact that I can come up and help in a situation like this, it feels good," Villanueva said. "It was a good feeling all-around."

He proclaimed himself ready for a pennant race.

"I've always welcomed the pressure it brings," Villanueva said. "I like it. We're pitching and playing for something right now."

After Linebrink wiggled out of trouble in the seventh inning, versatile left-hander Brian Shouse held Houston scoreless in the eighth. The Brewers tacked on insurance in the bottom of the inning with a rally sparked by a Braun bunt that rolled all the way to third base and glanced off the bag.

"That was almost a double," Braun joked. "I've never bunted for a double before."

Enter Cordero for the ninth inning and a chance at the club-record save. But first, Astros manager Cecil Cooper popped out of the dugout and asked the umpiring crew to examine Cordero's arm. Cooper later said he believed Cordero had some sort of band on his arm. Yost refused to call it gamesmanship.

Home-plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth was satisfied with whatever he did, or didn't, see, so the game resumed and Cordero's first offering was way inside to Mike Lamb. Was it a purpose pitch?

"If I want to hit somebody, I'm sure that I can do it," Cordero said. "I wasn't trying to say anything. It's a pitch that slipped away from me, and that's about it."

Cordero faced a two-on, one-out jam, but he struck out Berkman and retired Carlos Lee on a game-ending groundout for the record. Save No. 40 surpassed the record set in 2004 by Dan Kolb and equaled in 2005 by Derrick Turnbow.

"It's nice, but really, I'm not here for a record," Cordero said. "We're trying to go to the playoffs and trying to win every series. That's the main goal. The record is really nice. ... But I'm sure the team and the ownership and the whole city of Milwaukee, they just want us to win the division and go to the playoffs. That's what I'm looking for."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.