Brewers Tuesday: Crew battles to end, opens series with win

Fresh off a series win in Cincinnati, the Milwaukee Brewers continued to prove they are going to be tough competition for the contenders in the National League Central with a 7-6 hard-fought victory Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

After watching an early 5-0 lead disappear thanks in part to a lost fly ball in the lights, the Brewers battled with the Wild-Card leading Pirates in what turned into a grind-it-out affair.

“We made it a lot tougher than we needed to,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “We played a great game. One play got us, but other than that we played a great game.”

The play Roenicke was referring to was the one that changed the course of the game. With two outs and a man on first in the bottom of the fifth inning, Brewers right fielder Norichika Aoki pulled up on what seemed to be a routine play. The ball hit off his glove and fell in for what the official scorer ruled an RBI double for Felix Pie.

After Jose Tabata reached on an infield single, Pirates second baseman Neil Walker crushed a three-run home run to right and Milwaukee’s lead was suddenly down to 5-4 when it was a caught ball away from escaping up 5-0.

“It could definitely be called an error,” Roenicke said. “Nori said that it came through the lights on him. I didn’t know if he was pulling up because Gomey was close, I didn’t know. When he was running toward it the ball was coming in and out of the lights and it just kind of stayed in.”

Lohse was lucky to escape the fifth inning with the lead, as Andrew McCutchen followed the home run with a single and would have easily scored if Pedro Alvarez’s double hadn’t bounced over the fence. Russell Martin smoked a line drive right at Khris Davis in left field for the final out of the inning.

“I think he got a little bit flustered out there after that play in right field,” Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. “We were able to hold them down a little bit and go back and forth with them. He pitched very well up until that point. We just had some unfortunate stuff go against us.”

Roenicke considered taking Lohse out after he got hit hard in the fifth inning, but he sent the veteran right-hander back out for the sixth inning. Andrew Lambo reached on a one-out single that took a giant hop over first baseman Yuniesky Betancourt’s head. Jody Mercer then singled to right and Pie tied the game with a ground ball just past Betancourt at first.

“I was going to take him out but he told me he was OK,” Roenicke said. “I needed to see he was OK — that he wasn’t mentally out of the game. He assured me that he wasn’t, and I am OK with that.”

The Brewers fought right back and took the lead in the top of the seventh on a two-out RBI single by Aramis Ramirez, but Pittsburgh tied the game again in the bottom half of the inning. Facing reliever Rob Wooten, Alvarez crushed a 3-0 slider for his 32nd home run of the season.

Again, Milwaukee had an answer. Betancourt doubled with one out in the eighth and moved up to third on a bunt single from Scooter Gennett. Pinch hitter Caleb Gindl lofted a fly ball deep enough to score Betancourt and give the Brewers the lead for good.

The Brewers took two of three from the Reds over the weekend to prevent them from gaining any ground in the division race and sent the Pirates to their third-straight loss Tuesday.

“We’re still fighting,” Lucroy said. “We’re out here having fun, having a good time and having good at-bats. There’s no pressure on us whatsoever. We’re just playing to have fun.”

Ramirez’s milestone: When the Brewers held a 5-0 lead and had their best pitcher on the mound, Aramis Ramirez was set to be the storyline.

Ramirez launched a long home run to dead center field off Pirates Jeff Locke in the fourth inning for his 350th career home run.

347 of Ramirez’s 350 home runs have come as a third baseman, ranking him fifth all-time. Only Mike Schmidt (509), Eddie Matthews (486), Chipper Jones (389), Graig Nettles (368) and Matt Williams (359) have hit more home runs as third baseman.

It’s been a year of achieving milestones against former teams for Ramirez, as he picked up his 2,000th career hit in June against the Cubs.

Ramirez finished 4-for-5 with 4 RBI and appears to be finding his groove at the plate after missing over a month with a knee injury. After grounding into a double play with the bases loaded and nobody out in the first inning, Ramirez had hits in each of his final four at-bats with three of them producing runs.

“That was nice,” Roenicke said. “First at-bat was not so nice, but he really swung the bat well. The change-up that he hit for a homer, that’s a long ways to that spot. He killed it. He had big hits.”

Henderson sets mark: Ramirez wasn’t the only one to make history Tuesday, as Brewers closer Jim Henderson recorded another save to give him 12 in his last 12 appearances.

Trevor Hoffman previously held the record by recording 11 saves in 11 straight appearances in 2009. Tuesday’s save didn’t come without a fight for Henderson, as he had the tying run at second base and the winning run at first base with just one out.

He was able to get Russell Martin to fly out to center and got Gaby Sanchez to ground out to short to end the game and earn his 22nd save of the season.

“He has a power fastball, that’s his strength, and that’s what we were going with right there,” Lucroy said. “He overpowers a lot of hitters, I don’t care how good you are. He got behind in the count a few times but he came back and made the pitches when he had to.”

Strange stat: The Brewers scored a run in the first inning for the first time in 28 games Tuesday, snapping what was the fourth-longest run since 1920 without a first inning run.

Only the 1931 Boston Bees (31 games), 1948 Chicago White Sox (28) and the 1972 Kansas City Royals (28) had longer droughts than Milwaukee’s 27 games without a first inning tally.

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