Never has it felt so good for a first-place team to win a series.
Claiming a series for only the second time since the start of July, the Milwaukee Brewers pulled out a tense 3-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants on Thursday afternoon at Miller Park, assuring sole possession of first place in the NL Central for at least another day.
The Brewers received a strong performance from starter Wily Peralta, who became the first pitcher in the majors to record 14 victories. The bullpen, which had been leaking oil of late, covered the final 2 1/3 innings, with Francisco Rodriguez recording his 34th save.
Prior to taking two of three from the Giants, the Brewers had captured one of nine series since July 1, splitting one and losing seven. The lone series victory over that period was a three-game sweep of Cincinnati from July 21-23.
"I know we need to worry about one game and just getting back on the right track, and try to get where we're winning most of the games," manager Ron Roenicke said. "It seems like we're just flipping back and forth.
"We've been kind of stale as far as movement and what we've been doing. So, yes, it is important to win series. Any time you win it against a team like the Giants, you feel great about it."
The Brewers could have ill-afforded another losing series with the Los Angeles Dodgers up next, pitching co-aces Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
"We know what kind of arms we have seen lately and we know what kind of arms we're going to see," Roenicke said. "It's important for us to be able to match them. We feel with our five (starters) we can."
Peralta has matched up well with any pitcher of late, going 5-0 with a 1.64 ERA in his last five starts. He went 6 2/3 innings, allowing only one run on seven hits.
Peralta struck out nine and threw 115 pitches, both career highs.
"It feels great," Peralta said. "This was an important game for us. We were one game ahead of St. Louis and it was important to win today. That's a lot of pitches but I still feel strong.
"I've been getting the opportunity and been doing my job. It feels amazing (to lead the majors in victories). There are a lot great starting pitchers out there. To be able to lead the league, that's amazing and a great feeling. I've worked hard to get there."
Pitchers are taught from the first day they stand on the mound to keep the ball down in the strike zone and he did exactly that. Of the 20 outs he recorded, nine were strikeouts and 11 were groundouts. His outfielders could have sat in La-Z-Boys much of the nice afternoon.
"I had pretty good command today," he said. "I tried to pitch to contact and have them hit groundballs."
Peralta's moment of truth came in the fifth inning when the Giants tied the score at 1, on a rally that began with pitcher Jake Peavy striking out but reaching on a wild pitch. With two on and no outs, Peralta nixed any ideas the Giants had of taking the lead by striking out Buster Posey and getting the dangerous Pablo Sandoval to ground into a double play.
"Wily probably should have given up nothing," Roenicke said. "We pushed him a little bit but being able to go into the seventh inning for us, we thought was important.
"He's just a big, strong guy. That's why we pushed him a little bit. He's talked about it so I know it's on his mind that when we need a good start, he's going to do whatever he can to give us that start. We need him. We need him to give us innings and keep those run totals down."
Leading off the bottom of the sixth against Peavy, Aramis Ramirez sent a drive to right-center for a double, and Khris Davis dunked another double into shallow right to snap the deadlock. Rickie Weeks' sharp single to left put runners on the corners with one down, setting up a sacrifice fly by Mark Reynolds for a 3-1 lead.
Andrew Susac led off the Giants seventh with a single but Peralta bounced back to strike out pinch-hitter Travis Ishikawa and Pagan, catching the leadoff hitter looking on the eighth pitch of the at-bat. Jeremy Jeffress took over and retired Pence on a fly to right.
Jeffress and Will Smith covered the eighth inning before Francisco Rodriguez took over in the ninth to record his 34th save in 38 chances.
"It was big to win a series against a good team," Davis said. "We bounced back from a short turnaround (from a loss Wednesday night) to take the series. That was important.
"It feels good. We need to win every series. At least, we want to win every series. We'd like to separate ourselves from the other teams as we get close to the end."
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