Baseball / Sports

Braun powers Brewers past Pirates amid monstrous boos

PITTSBURGH -- With boos cascading down from every angle of PNC Park, Ryan Braun let his bat do the talking Saturday night.

The embattled rightfielder went 3 for 5, scored four runs and homered twice, with his second -- a two-run shot off all-star closer Jason Grilli with one out in the ninth inning -- lifting the Milwaukee Brewers to a dramatic 8-7 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"I embrace the challenge of an atmosphere and an environment like this," Braun said, referring to the crowd of 32,490 that let him know in no uncertain terms each time his name was announced how he's viewed in Pittsburgh.

"As a competitor, I think it makes it enjoyable. It makes it challenging. One way or the other, they're either going to be really happy or I'm going to enjoy it. Facing Jason Grilli, you know you've got your hands full.

"He's one of the best relievers in baseball and has been over the last few years. I was fortunate I was able to get the barrel to (the ball)."

The Brewers led, 4-1, before a five-run fourth inning made possible by several miscues -- defensive and otherwise -- allowed the Pirates to rally for five runs off starter Matt Garza, who remains without a victory after his first four starts in a Milwaukee uniform.

Pittsburgh scored again in the sixth to make it 7-5 before Braun scalded a ball to left-center off left-hander Tony Watson with one out in the seventh. It went over the fence on a line, narrowing the deficit to 7-6.

"I was surprised it carried out," Braun said, his troublesome right thumb still encased in ice. "I knew I had backspun it, but I thought it would maybe one-hop the wall or if I got lucky, get it off the wall. So I was surprised that ball got out."

Mark Melancon and Jim Henderson (2-0) each scoreless eighth innings to set the stage for Braun's big blow in the ninth.

After Grilli fanned Carlos Gomez for the first out, Jean Segura fell behind 0-2 before slapping a slider into left. With the boos raining down on him yet again, Braun strode to the plate and wasted little time angering the fans even more.

Grilli threw a 94-mph fastball that Braun hammered to straightaway center, just feet to the right of his first blast in the Milwaukee bullpen. Suddenly the Brewers were back in front, 8-7, and very quickly closer Francisco Rodriguez started warming up.

"Seggy got a base hit and I took my jacket off and I hadn't even stretched," Rodriguez said. "I turn around and the ball is coming flying into us, so I had to start getting ready quick."

Grilli got out of the frame with no further damage, but Rodriguez got a little extra time when Aramis Ramirez was plunked the at-bat after Braun's homer.

As it turned out, Braun's homer represented the first two runs scored by the Brewers off Grilli since 2007, when he was with the Detroit Tigers -- a span of 17 scoreless innings.

"That's the type of statistic we don't want to be aware of," said Braun, who has 20 multi-homer games. His previous, a three-homer game, came April 8 across the state in Philadelphia.

"I don't think many teams have a lot of success against a guy like that -- or their whole bullpen, for that matter. Their whole bullpen throws 95-plus; they all have great stuff.

"There's a reason they've been so successful. So it's not a good formula to have to come back against a team like this, but tonight we were able to do it."

Rodriguez entered and got the dangerous Andrew McCutchen to ground out to third before plunking Pedro Alvarez to bring the go-ahead run to the plate in the form of Jose Tabata.

With two hits and two runsalready, Tabata jumped on Rodriguez's second offering and hit a tailor-made ground ball to Scooter Gennett, who started a game-clinching, 4-6-3 double play capped by a terrific stretch at first by Mark Reynolds.

It was the sixth save of the season for "K-Rod" and 310th of his career, tying him with Hall of Famer Goose Gossage for 20th on the all-time list.

"It means a lot," he said. "When you're right there with a Hall of Famer, I take a lot of pride in that. But at the same time, I'm not pitching for records at all. I pitch because I like this game, not for records or anything. But it's a privilege for me to be on that list."

And so it goes for the Brewers, who still hold the best record in the major leagues at 13-5 and sport an impressive 8-1 road record after stealing victories each of the last two nights from the Pirates.

On Friday, Milwaukee overcame four errorsin the field and a couple of more on the base paths to win, 5-3. There were even more miscues in this one, but the Brewers were able to prevail again on the strength of Braun's big performance.

"We won another game that we probably shouldn't have won," said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke.

Rodriguez put it another way.

"We feel like we just took one out of their pocket," he said. "The crazy game yesterday, the way it ended up today, we'll take it. You're catching breaks, you have to capitalize and take it."

(c)2014 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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