MILWAUKEE -- How much did the Cubs miss Dexter Fowler? A lot. Playing his first game since June 18, Fowler smacked a leadoff home run and a two-run double, finishing a triple shy of the cycle to back Jason Hammel and lead the Cubs to a 5-2 victory on Friday over the Brewers at Miller Park.
"It was a wonderful evening for him, and it's really apparent how important he is to us," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Fowler.
Hammel served up four hits, including Ryan Braun's solo home run in the fourth, and two runs over five-plus innings for his second straight win, and his ninth in 13 career starts against the Brewers. Chicago improved to 5-2 since the All-Star break, while the Brewers dropped to 2-5.
Brewers starter Jimmy Nelson eventually settled in after allowing four early runs (two earned), but could not overcome early mistakes on the mound and on defense. He remained winless in 10 games against the Cubs and is 1-5 in his past nine starts this season.
"[Nelson] put up three zeros after the big inning, and we got back into the game," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "It was a 4-2 game and we had a couple leadoff hitters get on in some spots to make it a one-run game."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED You go, we go: Fowler was sidelined for 27 games because of a right hamstring strain, and looked healthy in his first at-bat when he launched a 3-1 pitch from Nelson to straightaway center for his 18th career leadoff home run and fourth this year. He didn't stop there. The Cubs loaded the bases in the second, and Fowler drilled a double down the left field line, driving in a pair. He also singled to lead off the ninth. The Cubs were 43-18 with him batting first before he was hurt, and 11-17 without him.
Toro, Torres: Home-plate collisions are now outlawed, but don't tell that to Carlos Torres. With one out in the sixth and Addison Russell on third, Hammel laid down a squeeze bunt fielded by Torres. Rather than flip the ball to catcher Jonathan Lucroy, the Brewers reliever made the scoop and barrelled headfirst toward home plate to make a diving tag of a sliding Russell that kept the score 4-2 at the time.
"He bunted the ball and I just attacked it," Torres said. "I was already there, so I just tried to make a play. My momentum was already going forward, so I just tried to make a play and luckily I did."
"That was pretty impressive," Maddon said of the play. "[Torres] did not want to flip the ball. I think if he'd flipped it, we'd have had a chance to score. They were ready for us. That's good baseball." More >
Penmanship: The Cubs are trying to find the right pieces for the bullpen, and Carl Edwards Jr. may play a key role down the stretch. The rookie right-hander replaced Hammel in the sixth after Scooter Gennett's leadoff double, and retired the Brewers' 3-4-5 hitters, Braun, Lucroy and Chris Carter, striking out the latter two.
"That was a big moment in the game," Maddon said. "You always talk about that middle-inning closer, and that's a classic example of the impact it can have on the game." More >
Braun blast: Braun just missed a home run in his first at bat against Hammel, so he made sure it wouldn't happen a second time. Seconds after walking to the plate to an audible shower of boos from a majority pro-Cubs crowd at Miller Park, Braun got the Brewers on the board in the fourth by cranking a first pitch delivery from Hammel out to center field for his 14th homer. In the first, Braun flied out just shy of the wall to the same spot in center.
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Braun's homer snapped a streak of 15 consecutive games without an RBI, which was the longest such streak of his 10-year career.
With two outs In the Brewers' third, Hammel threw to first baseman Anthony Rizzo in an attempt to pick off Jonathan Villar. Villar was called safe, but after a review, the call was overturned, Villar was out and the inning was over.
WHAT'S NEXT Cubs:John Lackey gets the start on Saturday in the second game of this three-game series. Lackey is 0-3 with a 6.75 ERA in his last five starts. He went eight innings in his last start against the Rangers. First pitch will be 6:10 p.m. CT from Miller Park.
Brewers: Right-hander Zach Davies looks to continue his roll on the mound for the Crew. Following a scoreless outing over seven innings on Sunday, Davies lowered his ERA to 2.95 over his last 13 starts.