MILWAUKEE (AP) – John Axford and the rest of the Brewers bullpen offered the offense another chance to rally following a sluggish start.
Corey Hart came through.
Hart hit a go-ahead, two-run double off the bench in the seventh inning and Milwaukee rallied from three deficits to beat Florida 6-4 Saturday night for the Brewers’ seventh straight win against the Marlins.
“The back of our bullpen is as good as there is,” Hart said. “It’s very comforting knowing if we make a run, we can hold it.”
Axford coverted a franchise-record 45th save after the NL Central champions had trailed 1-0, 3-2 and 4-3. Milwaukee’s bullpen has a 0.94 ERA in 57 2-3 innings in September.
“Obviously that’s a huge reason why we are where we are, because they do throw up zeros when they go out there,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “They give our offense a chance to catch up if we’re behind or add on if we’re ahead.”
Milwaukee’s bullpen of Takashi Saito, LaTroy Hawkins (2-1), Francisco Rodriguez and Axford allowed two hits in four scoreless innings. Rodriguez worked around two runners in the eighth and Axford surpassed Francisco Cordero’s 2007 mark with his saves total, which includes 42 in a row.
“Forty-five is a great individual accomplishment, but at the same time, I’m still looking at it as a team thing,” Axford said. “That’s 45 wins and those are big, crucial wins and it’s because of all these guys in the locker room.”
Milwaukee still has much to play for.
Ryan Braun finished 2 for 3 to raise his batting average to .331, just ahead of the Mets’ Jose Reyes (.330) for the NL lead. The Brewers have never had a batting champion.
Milwaukee also improved to a major league-best 54-23 at home, matching the 1978 Brewers for most home wins in franchise history. They could use a few more.
Milwaukee remains ahead of Arizona in the NL standings and must finish with a better record than the Diamondbacks to secure home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
“They’re really important,” Brewers starter Zack Greinke said. “Not necessarily that you have to finish strong, but homefield would be nice.”
Greinke labored through five innings and was in line for his first loss at Miller Park in 14 starts this year. He is 10-0 at home, with the Brewers winning the games in which he didn’t get a decision.
“We’ve played good here the whole year. I’ve had some bad outings here and we’ve found a way to win them,” Greinke said. “A lot of it the credit isn’t going to me in that situation. Some of it, but not all of it.”
Emilio Bonifacio and Omar Infante homered, but Florida guaranteed its first last-place finish in the NL East since 2007. The team will be renamed the Miami Marlins on Nov. 11 as it prepares to move into its new retractable-roof ballpark.
“We had a lot of innings where we just couldn’t make that big pitch or get that big hit or whatever. We just couldn’t get that big play, whatever it might be,” Bonifacio said. “It’s happened all year. We’ve been in ballgames and it just hasn’t worked out.”
The Brewers trailed 4-3 in the seventh when Jonathan Lucroy singled against Burke Badenhop (2-3) and pinch-hitter Jerry Hairston doubled. Badenhop left for Michael Dunn, and Hart came in as a pinch hitter after having a day out of the starting lineup to rest following Friday’s 4-1 win that gave the Brewers their first division title in 29 years.
Hart’s double put Milwaukee ahead, and he did a little twist in apparent celebration at second base. Braun drove in Hart two batters later for his 109th RBI.
Greinke didn’t return for the sixth, and finished with a season-high five walks. It could have been even worse for the 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner, but he caught a break in the third with the bases loaded when he snagged Gaby Sanchez’s sharp grounder and turned it into an inning-ending double play.
Greinke put his head down as a wide smile crossed his face after his play, but that was Milwaukee’s biggest highlight until Hart’s at-bat.
“That was a big play, he’s a great athlete,” Roenicke said. “He was caught flat-footed, almost retreating, and still made a great throw.”