MILWAUKEE --The Cubs' magic number dropped to single digits, but it wasn't because of what they did on the field Wednesday night. Jonathan Villar hit a pair of home runs, including a tiebreaking blast in the eighth, and Keon Broxton robbed Anthony Rizzo of a potential game-tying home run with an acrobatic catch to lift the Brewers to a 2-1 victory over the Cubs at Miller Park and take the series.
"That's not my game. That's Broxton's game," Villar said. "If he didn't take the ball away it's a tie game."
The Cubs' magic number to clinch the National League Central is now nine after the Cardinals lost to the Pirates on Wednesday.
"We know if we play, everything will take care of itself," Rizzo said. "The sooner the better, obviously, but we have to keep playing."
With the game tied at 1 in the eighth, Villar launched the first pitch from reliever Joe Smith to straightaway center, powering the Brewers to their sixth win in their last seven games.
Both starting pitchers were stingy, and each served up a solo homer. Villar smacked a leadoff home run in the fourth off Mike Montgomery but Anthony Rizzo tied the game against Matt Garza with a solo blast with two outs in the sixth, his 29th homer of the season. Rizzo was supposed to get Wednesday off, but manager Joe Maddon changed his mind after the first baseman hit two home runs on Tuesday.
"That felt like a real baseball game, like, one you're on the edge of your seat the whole game," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "It was a game you're hanging on every pitch."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Game-saver: Brewers closer Tyler Thornburg logged the save with a 1-2-3 ninth thanks in part to the Brewers' defensive play of the year. Rookie center fielder Keon Broxton, who has surged at the plate since returning from a demotion to Triple-A, made a leaping catch in left-center field to rob Rizzo of what appeared to be a tying home run. Thornburg then retired Ben Zobrist on a more routine flyout to end the game. More >
"I think that's every outfielder's dream, in the ninth inning to be able to make a play like that," Counsell said.
During batting practice prior to the game, Broxton and Thornburg discussed the art of robbing homers in the Miller Park outfield, only to hours later see their chat come to life.
"We were actually talking about the warning track in the outfield, if that bothered me," Broxton said. "He thought that the size of the warning track would be a problem. I told him I could see the surroundings, I could see the billboard above me once I get close to the wall. It never really bothers me. To actually have to show him how it really is tonight was pretty funny."
Missed opportunity: The Cubs have outscored opponents, 94-62, in the first inning, and they loaded the bases with one out in the first as Kris Bryant and Rizzo both singled, and Zobrist walked. But Garza got Addison Russell to hit a grounder to first baseman Chris Carter, who threw home to get Bryant. Chris Coghlan then grounded out to end the inning. More >
"If we get a couple right there and get it rolling, it would've been different for Garza tonight, and we didn't," Maddon said.
Vi-yard: Villar put the Brewers on the board in both the hit and run columns with a solo shot in the fourth. On one of the rare mistakes made by Montgomery, Villar lined a 2-2 changeup over the plate into the Brewers' bullpen in left-center to give the Crew a 1-0 lead. By sending Smith's first pitch of the eighth inning 436 feet to center with an exit velocity of 106 mph, according to Statcast™, Villar notched his first career multihomer game and has now gone deep four times in his last 14 at-bats spanning four games. Villar became the eighth player to homer from both sides of the plate in a game this season and the first Brewer to do so since Jose Valentin in 1999. More >
"There's certainly power potential in there," Counsell said. "He's done a really nice job of just letting it play out this year, of understanding who he is as a hitter and just kind of letting it play out. He has to do nothing to create that; it's in there, and there's a lot in there."
Sixth man: Making his fourth start for the Cubs, Montgomery matched his longest outing -- five innings -- but did not factor in the decision. The lefty gave up two hits, including Villar's first homer, and struck out six. He is expected to start in the series finale against the Cardinals next week as the Cubs continue using a six-man rotation.
"Whatever it takes, whatever the team needs me to do, whether it's start or relieve, I just try to give as many good innings as I can," Montgomery said.
"I don't know if you guys remember that Peter Pan catch that he made at his place against me, so it's nice to get him back."-- Broxton on Rizzo, who made one of the year's best catches against him in August
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Villar would have to continue his recent power surge, but with 15 home runs and 52 stolen bases this season, he's at least within striking distance of the first 20/50 season in the Majors since 2007, when Hanley Ramirez and Eric Byrnes each reached those totals. Villar is the first player with at least 10 homers and 50 steals since Carl Crawford for the Rays in 2009.
Cubs reliever Justin Grimm was lifted from the game because of illness after giving up a leadoff single in the sixth to pinch-hitter Jake Elmore in a six-pitch at-bat. Cubs athletic trainer PJ Mainville and manager Joe Maddon went to the mound after Elmore singled, and after some discussion, Grimm was pulled. Grimm apparently wasn't feeling well when he reported to Miller Park.
"What happened was I did not want him to soil himself on the mound," Maddon said. "He's telling me he could get through it. He was ill, you could see the difference in his stuff -- he was ill. We got him out."
WHAT'S NEXT Cubs: After an off-day Thursday, the Cubs open a three-game Interleague series against the Astros in Houston. Jon Lester, who is coming off a complete-game victory over the Giants, will start on Friday. The lefty is 5-0 with a 1.35 ERA in his last seven starts. First pitch from Minute Maid Park will be 7:10 p.m. CT.
Brewers: The Brewers will play their next 11 games over 11 days on the road, beginning Thursday night in St. Louis. Junior Guerra will make his second start off the disabled list in the 6:15 p.m. CT series opener at Busch Stadium.