Every time Zack Greinke needed a big pitch he delivered on a night he felt less than stellar. His numbers looked brilliant at the end anyway.
Greinke won his fifth straight start and Jerry Hairston Jr. singled in two runs to lift the Brewers to a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday night for their 19th victory in 21 games.
The NL Central-leading Brewers remained seven games ahead of St. Louis after the Cardinals topped Pittsburgh 7-2 and are on track for a second playoff berth in four years.
“It’s definitely not locked up or anything, but if we continue playing well, it should happen,” Greinke said. “It’s on us, mainly. We’ve just got to keep doing as good as we’re doing or close to that and make it as tough as possible on the other teams. It is ours to lose.”
The hottest team in baseball has gotten contributions on offense from unlikely candidates all season, including Hairston, the utilityman acquired at the non-waiver trade deadline when second baseman Rickie Weeks severely sprained his left ankle.
“The one thing I did hear about him is he’ll get you some big hits and he’ll come in with the game on the line like it was tonight,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “He battles, especially with two strikes and gets you that big one. You name a whole bunch of guys, everybody’s chipping in.”
Hairston’s two-out single in the sixth helped Greinke (12-4) become the first Brewers pitcher in franchise history to win his first nine home decisions with the club. Greinke’s only mistake came when Tony Gwynn Jr. homered in the seventh.
Milwaukee is 11-0 when Greinke starts at Miller Park and 47-15 at home this year, the best pace since the 1998 Yankees won 62 games.
“This is definitely the best team I’ve ever been a part of, it’s definitely fun,” said catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who joked that only a Little League team he was on had a better record at 25-0. “The talent level on this team has been unbelievable.”
Greinke, the 2009 AL Cy Young winner, scattered five hits and struck out eight over seven innings to lower his ERA to 1.57 over this five-game winning streak.
“It wasn’t a great outing, but I made big pitches when they needed to be made,” Greinke said.
The Brewers have only scored 11 times in the past five games, all victories, because of their dominant pitching staff and just enough clutch hits.
“Since the second half, everyone’s been playing well,” Greinke said. “Not just that, the defense has been better, the bullpen’s been really good and starters have done better. Pretty much one of those things everybody on the team is doing their job right now. That’s why we’re winning the games we are.”
In the sixth, Milwaukee got to Dodgers rookie Nathan Eovaldi (1-1) after the 21-year-old right-hander loaded the bases with one out. Eovaldi forcedYuniesky Betancourt to pop up for the second out, but Hairston’s bouncer up the middle was just out of the reach of rookie shortstop Justin Sellers to give the Brewers a 2-0 lead.
Hairston’s big hit came a night after Mark Kotsay‘s tiebreaking single in the ninth.
Gwynn homered for the first time this season in the seventh against Greinke, but the Brewers answered when Dodgers reliever Josh Lindblom allowed a single to Lucroy then threw two wild pitches that allowed him to score.
Los Angeles remains in an ugly rut on offense, something that’s been a problem all season.
We realistically (are) not mathematically eliminated, but realistically we haven’t shown that we are the kind of club that can go rattle off 10 in a row,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
The Dodgers, who have two runs in three games here, loaded the bases with an out in the fourth and had two on and two out against Greinke in the sixth, but both times failed to score with each inning ending on a groundout byDioner Navarro.
Sellers made two terrific plays to keep the Brewers off the board early, including a diving catch of Ryan Braun‘s liner with the bases loaded and one out in the third that turned into an easy double play. But Sellers couldn’t quite reach Hairston’s roller in the sixth, and the Dodgers failed to score at least two runs for the 37th time this season.
“Our lack of offense has been fairly standard, but we know these guys can pitch a little bit,” Mattingly said. “They’ve been doing it not only against us, but they’ve been doing it against a lot of teams.”