Crew brings heat, tops Cubs in cold opener

Crew brings heat, tops Cubs in cold opener

CHICAGO -- The only thing that dampened the Brewers' 6-3 win over the Cubs on Friday -- besides the rain that interrupted play for nearly two hours -- was that Paolo Espino did not get the win.

Espino, 30, was making his big league debut after spending 11 years in the Minor Leagues, but he was lifted after four innings and Wily Peralta picked up the win after striking out five over two innings in his first relief appearance since 2012. First-place Milwaukee now has won 10 of its past 12 games, and it opened a three-game lead over Chicago in the National League Central.

"It's guys stepping up. That's how you win games," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell. "A lot of guys do good things, and today was another example of that. Wily is kind of moving into a different role, but he was outstanding for two innings there. The dugout was fired up, for sure.

"So, yeah, it's not necessarily what you expected, but the guys adapt. Guys are doing whatever it takes in whatever role they're put in."

Santana's two-run single

Jett Bandy and Domingo Santana each hit two-run singles for the Brewers, who bounced Chicago starter Eddie Butler early. The right-hander, making his second start, walked five over three-plus innings, half of the 10 issued by Cubs pitchers in the game.

"I couldn't get a good feel for the baseball and sprayed the fastball around and wasn't able to establish it," Butler said.

Butler fans Santana

Espino knew the feeling.

"The wind, the cold weather, it was a little hard for me to get a good grip of the ball, too," Espino said. "It was definitely tough out there, but in the end, the team got the win. That's the key."

Espino's first career strikeout

Rain halted play in the Milwaukee sixth with the Brewers leading, 4-3. Eric Thames singled to open the inning against the Cubs' Pierce Johnson, who was also making his Majors debut. Thames reached third on a double error by left fielder Kyle Schwarber, who scrambled to try and catch Jonathan Villar's popup but dropped it, then made a poor throw to second. Home-plate umpire Tim Timmons then stopped play, and the game was delayed for 1 hour, 59 minutes.

"The conditions weren't baseball-esque," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.

Maddon on loss to Brewers

Espino, who has been in the Minors in the Indians and Nationals organizations, gave up three runs over four innings. The Panamanian right-hander's father, Alex, made the trip to see his son's debut. The Brewers are hoping Espino could become another Junior Guerra, who emerged as the team's best starter last year at age 31.

The Cubs erased the Brewers' 2-0, first-inning lead as Jon Jay hit an RBI double in the third, and Willson Contreras delivered a go-ahead two-run single in the fourth. But the Brewers loaded the bases in the rainy fifth, tying the game at 3 on Orlando Arcia's infield single and taking the lead when Mike Montgomery walked pinch-hitter Jesus Aguilar.

Contreras' two-run single

It wasn't all bad for the Cubs. Schwarber ended the third inning with a four-star diving catch, according to Statcast™. There was just a 26 percent catch probability on the play.

"We didn't play badly," Maddon said. "We just walked too many guys."

Statcast: Schwarber's great grab

First things first: Butler needed 28 pitches to get through the first inning in his first start a week ago. This time, he threw 40 in the first, walking three, and he served up a two-run single to Bandy. Espino, on the other hand, retired the Cubs in order on eight pitches in the first. Butler was lifted after Arcia's infield single to lead off the Brewers' fourth. He finished with 92 pitches over three plus innings.

Arcia's RBI infield single

"Their guy was struggling throwing strikes, and with the wind howling in like that, we get six runs. That's a good day, I think," Counsell said.

Fourth-inning rally: The Cubs loaded the bases in the fourth on three straight singles by Anthony Rizzo, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist. Contreras followed with a two-run go-ahead single, but Javier Baez ended the rally with an oddly timed bunt attempt. On the second pitch of his at-bat, Baez tried to bunt, and he popped up to catcher Bandy. Espino then struck out Montgomery and got Jay to ground out.

"I forgot the pitcher was hitting behind me," Baez said. "You can't do anything about it, just learn from it."

Said Maddon: "That was on his own. With the pitcher coming up next, that was the part of the play that was tough. Yes, I would prefer that he swung right there."

"After we started again, I still thought runs were going to be hard to come by because of the wind, and they were. To get a three-run lead, I think, took a lot of that comeback wind out of [the Cubs'] sail." -- Counsell, on the importance of Santana's two-run single after play resumed in the sixth

Counsell on win after long delay

"I was hanging out out there with them. They were enjoying the cold with me. They looked like they were having a good time. Hopefully they had a good experience at Wrigley Field." -- Jay, on a pair of mallard ducks that were in right field most of the game

Peralta, bumped from the rotation this week in light of a 6.08 ERA, admitted he was nervous in the buildup to his first relief appearance since his April 2012 Major League debut. He didn't know that he had been credited with the win until a reporter informed him after the game.

Peralta strikes out the side

"It felt a little bit different, but it's a job," Peralta said. "It's easier, because you can let it go right away. You know you're not going to throw that many pitches. But you still have to make your pitch. … From now on, I'm in the bullpen, so I'm thinking about it like [that]."

Brewers: Chase Anderson seeks his second Wrigley Field win of the season when he starts Saturday afternoon at 1:20 p.m. CT on MLB.TV. Anderson, who was the pitcher of record in the Brewers' April 17 win at the Friendly Confines after allowing three runs (two earned) in five innings, has a 3.09 ERA in three career starts at Wrigley, and a 2.66 ERA in four career starts against the Cubs.

Cubs: Jake Arrieta will start Saturday in the second game of this weekend series on MLB.TV. He's coming off a loss to the Cardinals, in which he threw two poor pitches, and both resulted in two-run homers. He beat the Brewers on April 9 at Miller Park, giving up three runs over seven innings.

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Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.