ARLINGTON -- The Brewers were long ago eliminated from postseason contention, but the way Matt Garza sees it, they are still playing meaningful baseball.
Carlos Gomez drove in a pair of runs against his former team, but the Rangers slipped a half-game behind the idle Red Sox in the race for home-field advantage throughout the postseason with an 8-3 loss to the Brewers on a big Monday night for Milwaukee leadoff man Jonathan Villar.
Villar broke free from a recent funk with three hits, two home runs and five RBIs to back Garza, who held Gomez and the Rangers to three runs in six innings in what could be the right-hander's final start this season. The Brewers scored in bunches for Garza, with three runs in the third inning, two in the fifth on Villar's two-run homer to left field and three more in the seventh on Villar's three-run shot to straightaway center.
"I took it as this is our playoff right here," said Garza. "[The Rangers] are a good team, and you want to go out there and perform. You want to go out there and shut them down and be a spoiler in a sense. They've already clinched, but let's not let them celebrate another party on us."
The race between the Rangers and Red Sox is for home field throughout the postseason because the American League won the All-Star Game. As things stood Monday night after Cleveland clinched the AL Central, the Rangers would host the Indians in the AL Division Series, and the Red Sox would await the winner of the AL Wild Card Game.
All of Milwaukee's runs scored against Rangers starter Martin Perez, who pitched efficiently but not effectively. He surrendered a season-high eight earned runs on nine hits in 6 2/3 innings before yielding to reliever Jeremy Jeffress, the former Brewers closer who pitched for the first time since returning to the Rangers from the restricted list.
"The line is what it is, but, really, I don't think that told the story," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "I feel like there were some pitches that Martin threw well. It just seemed that when he needed to get the out, he couldn't get the out."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Going Vi-Yard: It had been a quiet September for Villar, the Milwaukee leadoff man who was in a 3-for-48 stretch before knocking a double in Sunday's home finale at Miller Park. A day later, he hit his first home runs since Sept. 13, pushing his total to 18 homers this season to go with a Major League-leading 59 stolen bases. With five games remaining at hitter-friendly Texas and Colorado, Villar has a chance to be baseball's first 20/60 man since Rickey Henderson in 1990.
"I never think about that, because home runs are not my game," Villar said. "[Brewers manager Craig] Counsell has told me, 'You can hit 30 home runs.'" More >
Seventh-inning blues: Perez entered Monday having allowed eight runs on 13 hits in eight innings of work in the seventh inning this year. Things would not get much better for him against the Brewers. Perez allowed three runs in the seventh inning on Villar's home run with one out and now has an 11.42 ERA in the seventh inning this season. Villar's home run also gave Perez eight earned runs allowed on the night, which matches his career-high.
"I threw strikes, that's why they hit the ball," Perez said. "I've just got to stay alert and throw strikes. I feel great with my mechanics. I've just got to keep going and be ready for October."
Odd sight: The Brewers took a 3-0 lead in the third on nine-hole hitter Yadiel Rivera's RBI single and Domingo Santana's two-run double before the inning ended on a play that made Brewers fans do a double take. Rangers catcher Jonathan Lucroy threw out Ryan Braun trying to steal second base, an oddity considering their long tenure as teammates batting in the middle of Milwaukee's order. Entering the night, Lucroy knew that there would be some strange moments.
"Probably a lot of smack talking going on, but that's OK," Lucroy said. "I wouldn't expect anything less." More >
Gomez heating up: Gomez got the Rangers on the board with an RBI single in the second and then drove in another run with a double in the fifth. Gomez is hitting. 378 with four RBIs over his last nine games and has multiple hits in five straight. He had just 14 multihit efforts in 85 games with the Astros this season. Gomez has been solid in the leadoff role, as well, reaching with either a walk or a hit in 20 of his last 23 games.
"With his season, I think they're trying to get him to a confident place, and it looks like they're getting him there," Counsell said. "He's going to be an important player for them in the playoffs."
"There are going to be nights where those guys aren't the premier focus of the lineup. Garza threw the ball well tonight. He had a good running fastball and kept us from extending innings," -- Banister, on Carlos Beltran, Adrian Beltre and Rougned Odor going a combined 0-for-12
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS Elvis Andrus went 3-for-4 in the loss, including a double, making it his fourth three-hit game of September. His 14 extra-base hits this month are the most in any month of his career. More >
JEFFRESS MAKES HIS RETURN
Jeffress retired all four Brewers he faced on Monday night, striking out one. He had not appeared in a game since Aug. 23, after spending 22 days in a Houston-area rehabilitation clinic following a DWI arrest. Jeffress' fastball sat around 93-94 mph. The left-hander said he expects to increase his velocity as he makes more appearances.
"It was the bright spot of the night -- for Jeremy to get in the game," Banister said. "It looked like the Jeremy we had prior to his absence." More >
WHAT'S NEXT Brewers:Jimmy Nelson makes his first career start against the Rangers when the series continues Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. CT. The Brewers are 12-19 when he takes the mound.
Rangers: Right-hander A.J. Griffin (7-4, 4.94 ERA) will start game two of the series at 7:05 p.m. on Tuesday. Over his last nine starts, Griffin is 3-3 with a 6.32 ERA. .