Brewers close Wild Card gap with rally vs. Nats

Brewers close Wild Card gap with rally vs. Nats

Brewers close Wild Card gap with rally vs. Nats
WASHINGTON -- With 162 games in the season, pairing any two together to make some sort of lasting statement seems illogical. But if the Brewers' September magic lasts long enough to carry them into the postseason, these last two victories could very well be the pair that defines their year.

One night after erasing a three-run eighth-inning deficit to sweep the Pirates, the Brewers' theatrical flair produced three more runs in the ninth inning in a 4-2 come-from-behind win over the Nationals on Friday at Nationals Park. Milwaukee now has 44 comeback victories, the most in baseball.

The Brewers, having won 24 of their last 30 games, crept to within 1 1/2 games of the Cardinals for the final Wild Card spot in the National League.

"The last two days, coming back the way we have, it's been fantastic," said closer John Axford, who sealed it with a near perfect ninth inning. "Keeping the game as close as we did today with some great pitching, great defense and then obviously the timely hitting at the every end, is what brought it all together. It was perfect."

With Nats closer Tyler Clippard -- now the owner of a 9.72 ERA in nine September appearances -- coming out to seal a 2-1 Washington lead in the ninth, the Brewers sent out the top of their order in Norichika Aoki, Rickie Weeks and Ryan Braun.

On the first pitch he saw, Aoki laid a perfect bunt down the third-base line that Ryan Zimmerman was unable to handle, keeping Aoki's hit streak going at 11 games.

"The play of the ninth inning was Aoki's bunt," Nats manager Davey Johnson said. "The bunt was the key, because the guy can run, he's going to be on second base. That was the whole inning, really."

With Weeks at the plate, a passed ball by Jesus Flores allowed Aoki to advance to second. Then a Weeks fly ball sent Bryce Harper crashing into the video scoreboard in right-center to make the catch, advancing Aoki to third and bringing up Braun with a chance to tie the game.

Milwaukee's left fielder, now batting .315 on the year, did just that, ripping an 0-1 changeup to left field for an RBI single. Braun then stole second base with Aramis Ramirez at the plate, and scored once the third baseman ripped a double to left.

"It's the beauty of our lineup," Braun said. "There's certainly a lot of depth to our lineup, there has been all year. But it's so good right now. We have a lot of guys swinging the bats well."

But Clippard's unraveling was just beginning, as a wild pitch with Jonathan Lucroy at the plate sent Ramirez to third. Lucroy ultimately lined out to left, but Travis Ishikawa came to the plate next and sent a grounder up the middle. Nats shortstop Ian Desmond hauled it in and attempted a spinning throw to first, but the toss was wide and pulled Adam LaRoche off first base on what was ruled a base hit, with Ramirez scoring to make it 4-2.

Axford then earned his 32nd save -- tying him with Clippard for sixth most in the NL -- by allowing only a walk to Zimmerman in the ninth.

The lockdown relief effort, which also featured scoreless innings from both Jim Henderson and Jose Veras, also served to highlight the Brewers' remarkable play over the past month or so. Now, with Axford having allowed only three runs on four hits over 11 1/3 innings this month, the Brewers are benefiting from a renewed ability to lock down close games.

"I really wish there was a reason that we could just point out, but it's hard to really say because it's like a guy that's on a hitting streak," Lucroy said in an explanation of the bullpen's improvement. "The guy's raking, and the next day he can go 0-for-4 and the hitting streak's over with. So it's weird. This game is too weird to even question."

Thrilling as the late innings were, the Brewers wouldn't have been in position to pull anything out minus a strong outing from Shaun Marcum. The 30-year-old right-hander delivered his first six-inning start since coming off the disabled list last month, surrendering only two runs on four hits while striking out three and walking none. Both of those runs came in the first inning, on one swing -- a two-run homer to right field by LaRoche.

"[Marcum] looked really good," Lucroy said. "He made a couple of mistakes. One was a big one, the homer, but other than that, I thought he was real good. He backwards-pitched a lot of people, executed and made good pitches whenever he had to. That was the most impressive thing to me."

After allowing a single to Michael Morse with one out in the fourth, Marcum retired the next eight batters he faced before exiting prior to the seventh.

Nats right-hander Edwin Jackson went even deeper, allowing one run, on a Lucroy solo shot to left in the second, and only five other hits while adding six strikeouts and zero walks.

But while the Brewers could've caved under the pressure of Jackson's brilliant outing, they stuck true to whatever has carried them this far back into contention.

"I think any time you don't score for a long period, it seems like the energy is gone," manager Ron Roenicke said. "But I watched the way the guys were playing, we're still getting after it. I, for a long time, haven't seen this team just kind of show up. That's not what they're doing."

Mike Fiammetta is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.