MILWAUKEE — In a matter of 15 minutes, the Milwaukee Brewers turned another frustrating offensive performance into a thrilling come-from-behind win.
A ninth-inning rally against Pirates closer Mark Melancon was capped by Khris Davis’ two-run, walk-off single lifting the Brewers to a 4-3 victory and a series win over their division rivals.
"I was looking to put the ball in play, and it happened," Davis said. "I was actually calling timeout on the pitch. The umpire didn’t give it to me and I just saw a good pitch and threw my hands at it.
"It feels pretty good to take a series, you know, winning a series at home is always important, and that’s going to go a long ways to getting us in the playoffs."
Solo home runs from Rickie Weeks and Martin Maldonado were all the Brewers had to show offensively through eight innings, especially frustrating due to the fact Pirates starter Wandy Rodriguez entered with a 7.65 ERA and 10.38 ERA in two Triple-A rehab starts prior to coming off the disabled list Thursday.
Outside of the home runs, Milwaukee had just two runners reach base from the second through the eighth. Jean Segura drew a two-out walk in the third and was stranded, while Weeks was left on base after a two-out single in the eighth.
Nine of 11 Milwaukee hitters struck out during a stretch from the fifth inning through the eighth, including a run of six whiffs in a row. It seemed as if the Brewers had no chance of mounting any kind of threat against Pittsburgh’s bullpen.
"You are thinking something good needs to happen and somebody needs to get a big hit," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "When you are scuffling offensively and they are just mowing you down, you are thinking somewhere along the line one of our guys is going to get a big hit. We started off that way in the ninth."
Ryan Braun singled to right start the ninth, while Melancon followed with a four-pitch walk to Jonathan Lucroy. Roenicke put the bunt on for Mark Reynolds on the first pitch, but decided to let his third baseman have a go at Melancon after the first pitch was a ball.
Reynolds, who has just two sacrifice bunts in his career with the last one coming in 2008 (his second year in the majors), jumped ahead 3-0 before the count eventually ran full. Melancon then bounced a cutter in the dirt for ball four, loading the bases with nobody out.
Roenicke considered pinch-hitting Lyle Overbay or Scooter Gennett for Davis, but stuck with the young outfielder because of the way left-handed hitters have struggled against Melancon. Milwaukee’s skipper also knew the knack Davis has had for coming through in the clutch, something he did again Thursday.
"He’s got some big hits for us," Roenicke said. "You look at his overall numbers and they are not where he’d like them to be or us, but he’s got some big hits. It’s important when these guys have good at-bats when things are on the line."
Davis entered Thursday hitting just .226 on the season, with most of his damage coming away from home. The 26-year-old stepped to the plate in the ninth inning just 9-for-68 with three RBI at Miller Park, nearly matching his RBI total at home with one swing.
"I just tell myself I can do it," Davis said. "I always have a chance to help the team win when I’m at the plate. I just let it happen."
Milwaukee scored six runs against the Yankees on Sunday and five against the Pirates in the series opener Monday, getting production from multiple sources in the absence of a couple of key lineup pieces.
The offense was doing the sort of things it needed to do to survive until Aramis Ramirez returns from the disabled list and Carlos Gomez’s suspension is over. While Weeks continued to stay hot with three hits Thursday, the three through six hitters in Milwaukee’s lineup combined to go 0-for-12 until the ninth inning.
Stealing a game late is important no matter when it happens, but doing so when the offense was struggling as badly as it was Thursday goes a long way in improving.
"When you have guys out like we do, to come back and show some resiliency and scratch some runs together, you can’t ask for too much more than that," Weeks said.
Just a few weeks ago, Roenicke sat in the media auditorium and lamented over a 4-0 loss to the Chicago Cubs. Milwaukee had won the series, but a lackluster performance on a Sunday afternoon prevented the Brewers from finishing 5-4 on the homestand
He was about to do the same Thursday until the script was flipped in the ninth inning. Now the Brewers will embark on a season-long 10-game road trip feeling good about winning two consecutive home series.
"It makes a big difference," Roenicke said. "And going into the next series it makes a big difference. Winning games late is great and when you lose them they are very tough . . . Good teams win some games late."