MILWAUKEE -- Three at-bats, three strikeouts. That's how Corey Hart's Thursday night at Miller Park started as he and the Brewers took on Cliff Lee and the Phillies. The evening couldn't have been going much worse for the Milwaukee first baseman, who recorded three strikeouts for the 10th time this season. But in baseball, a miserable night can turn into a great one in the drop of a hat. Or in Hart's case, one swing of the bat.
With Milwaukee down one run with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning, Hart stepped to the plate and delivered his first hit of the game. That hit just so happened to be a towering grand slam off Phillies reliever Josh Lindblom, and it gave the Brewers a much-needed 7-4 win after another rough road trip. Hart said he walked to the batter's box with one thing on his mind. "Don't strike out," Hart said. "It was a rough night. I literally would have been happy with a rollover. I was just trying to find a way to make contact. After I tipped the 1-2 pitch ... I was able to wait back and get barrel to it." Hart's slam not only proved to be redemption for his own rough night, it also made up for an offense that had been reliant on Ryan Braun for the first 7 2/3 innings. Entering the day batting .143 (6-for-42) with 14 strikeouts in his last 10 games, Braun took rare early batting practice before the series opener after sitting out Wednesday's game against the Rockies. The extra work paid major dividends immediately, as he snuck a fly ball into Philadelphia's bullpen in his first at-bat, joining Prince Fielder as the only Brewers to have five or more 30-home run seasons in franchise history. Aramis Ramirez followed suit with a home run, but it was Braun again connecting on a solo shot in the bottom of the fourth for his fifth multi-homer game of the season. Braun said both the early batting practice and the day off played a part in his success on Thursday night, adding that sometimes it's necessary to step back and let the game slow down. "Baseball's such a game of confidence," he said. "The mental part of the game is so important for all of us. And I think when you've had success, you're that much more confident. And when you haven't had success, you're certainly aware of it as well. It was definitely nice to hit the ball on the barrel." Although it might seem obvious, manager Ron Roenicke said having the reigning National League MVP bat the way he usually does played a big part. "When Ryan's swinging well, then they're pitching around him, whether they're putting him on base or he's just driving the ball to get on base," Roenicke said. "It makes a big difference then going to [Ramirez] and Corey." And that's exactly how the eighth played out for the Brewers. After Rickie Weeks reached on a throwing error, Braun worked his way to a 3-1 count. Not wanting to take any chances against a guy who had already hit two homers, Lindblom intentionally walked Braun, then walked Ramirez, setting the stage for Hart. Fortunately for Hart, Lee -- who struck out 12 -- left the game after the error allowed Weeks to reach. "[Lee] was dominating me, so I was happy for him to get out of there," Hart said. "Lindblom's been tough, but after night I had, I was excited to see anybody but Cliff out there."
Lindblom said he tried to be aggressive against Milwaukee, but it didn't work out."The most important thing in that situation is getting ahead and having them hit your pitch," he said. "I wasn't ahead in any at-bat other than the Hart at-bat." Before he left, Lee spent the night outdueling the Brewers' Marco Estrada, who allowed at least one baserunner in all five innings he pitched. He was able to limit the damage through the first four innings, when he held a 3-1 lead. In the fifth, though, the baserunners caught up to him, as two singles and a walk loaded the bases with Kevin Frandsen due up. Caught in a full count, Estrada thought about throwing a changeup, but in hopes of avoiding a walk he threw a third straight fastball, which Frandsen sent to left field for a bases-clearing double that gave the Phillies a 4-3 lead. Estrada said afterward he would have rather issued a walk. "The last one, it was a bad pitch," he said. "I left it over the plate, and he did exactly what he was supposed to do with it. But I wish I could take that pitch back." The mistake proved not to matter, though, thanks to Hart's heroics and Jim Henderson's ability to overcome a bases-loaded situation in the ninth. The win was a role reversal of Milwaukee's three straight losses in Philadelphia in July, when the Phillies came back and won each game in the late innings. "It's been a lot of rough ones," Hart said. "But against those guys, you saw it. They got guys on in the ninth again. They don't quit, and we were able to come back with a nice one, especially since they took it to us out there."
Jeremy Warnemuende is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.