Aoki was a three-time batting champion in Japan, but it wasn't his power that drew the Brewers' interest in December. Going into the game, Aoki's only home run this season required an inside-the-park scamper against the Rockies on April 20, and manager Ron Roenicke said that Aoki only homers in batting practice every two or three days.
So when he connected against Cubs starter Matt Garza in the fourth inning, it marked the Brewers' first hit -- their only
hit through Garza's first 5 2/3 innings -- and Aoki's first over-the-fence home run.
The teams engaged in a back-and-forth battle after that. George Kottaras gave the Brewers insurance with an RBI single off Garza in the sixth inning. The Cubs got on the board against starter Randy Wolf with an unearned run in the seventh, then took the lead in the eighth on Bryan LaHair's pinch-hit two-run homer off Francisco Rodriguez with two outs.
The Brewers answered in the bottom of the frame with Corey Hart's RBI double, setting the stage for Aoki's dramatic walk-off homer off reliever Casey Coleman.
"I've had walk-off home runs [in Japan]," said Aoki, who signed a two-year deal over the winter. "But whenever you win the game for the team, it's a great feeling. It's a special moment."
But not for the Cubs, who still have not won a road series this season.
"To lose a ballgame because Aoki hit two home runs, that's kind of the way things are going obviously," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "You expect [Ryan] Braun or Corey Hart to hit two home runs."
Aoki's teammates stopped short of saying they were surprised.
"Right now, he's locked in," said fellow outfielder Carlos Gomez, who along with Nyjer Morgan has been sharing time with Aoki this season. "When you get him out a few times by going in, he's going to change from hitting the ball the other way to pulling it. That's what you saw today.
"I've seen Aoki for 100 at-bats, and I think he's one of the best hitters I've ever been with. No matter what, he always has the same swing, same approach. It's unbelievable how he gets inside the ball so easily, so comfortably. You don't have to have the big power to hit homers. You have to have consistent contact, and he has it."
Closer John Axford earned the win after pitching two innings for the first time since the end of the 2010 season. He was efficient, needing only 23 pitches to retire all six batters he faced.
The victory was the Brewers' 67th in a row when they led after seven innings, a streak that began last July 4.
They needed the win to take the series, 2-1. It was their first series win at home since they took two out of three from these same Cubs from May 11-13.
"Yes, I think it was important to win the series, but I think it was more important to play that good type baseball that I think we have to do for the rest of the year," Roenicke said.
They'll need as much good, clean baseball as possible to overcome a spate of early-season injuries.
"It's not the team that we started with, but everyone's here for the same reason, which is to win ballgames and grind it out," Axford said. "And if this is the way we got to do it, that's the way we're going to do it."
The earlier innings featured a duel between Wolf and Garza, a repeat matchup of a May 11 game at Miller Park that went 13 innings. This time Garza surrendered only three hits -- Aoki's homer in the fourth, then Hart's two-out double in the sixth followed by Kottaras' RBI single.
Those hits handed Wolf a two-run lead in his bid to win for the first time since April 30 and to overcome a loss to the Pirates six days earlier that left him fuming. His frustration level, Wolf said that night, was "tenfold." Tenfold over what, no one dared to ask.
Wolf didn't find any frustration at all on Thursday until the seventh inning, when he lost his shutout bid. An error charged to third baseman Cody Ransom extended the Cubs' rally for Koyie Hill's two-out RBI double, and when Wolf walked the next batter, the Brewers tapped their bullpen.
Jose Veras retired Reed Johnson to keep Wolf temporarily in line for the win. Wolf scattered four hits while allowing one unearned run, with two walks and six strikeouts. He had not whiffed as many as six batters since striking out seven Cardinals in his season debut.
He settled for a no-decision in this one.
"Real important," Roenicke said of Wolf's outing. "He's frustrated. He wants to get this thing going and get locked in like he usually does. And this, for me, was very important for him."