SAN FRANCISCO — These teams would love to meet again in October, and if they do, the Brewers have proven capable of beating the Giants in a seven-game series. Even when things don’t go as planned.
Lorenzo Cain homered for the second straight night and drove in three runs, Jace Peterson punched a tiebreaking single to left field with two strikes and two outs in the seventh inning and Milwaukee knocked San Francisco out of first place with a flurry of bullpen arms, 5-2, on Wednesday at Oracle Park.
Six relievers pitched behind Brewers starter Brett Anderson after he was struck on the pitching shoulder by a 103.1 mph line drive in the second inning and left the game in the third. Hunter Strickland was first out of the ‘pen to deliver two huge, scoreless innings. The Giants tied the game at 2 in the fifth against Justin Topa but Daniel Norris worked the sixth inning to keep it tied, Brad Boxberger and Jake Cousins preserved a one-run lead in the seventh and eighth on a night Devin Williams was off-limits and Josh Hader earned his 29th save in the ninth with some breathing room.
The collective effort gave the Brewers their third straight victory in this four-game series and a 4-2 lead over the Giants in the teams’ seven-game regular-season series with Thursday’s finale to go.
“That was awesome,” said Anderson, who was fortunate to escape with only a bruise. “I’ve put those guys in bad spots either through my own volition or freak things the last few times, and [for the bullpen to cover] the last seven seemingly unscathed, to do the job that they did, it was phenomenal.”
As a result of that work, the Brewers are 30 games over .500 for the first time in a decade and have a 10 1/2-game lead over second-place Cincinnati, matching the 2011 club for the largest division lead on any date in franchise history.
The Giants, meanwhile, fell out of first place in the NL West for the first time since May 30. The Dodgers are the new West division leaders.
“It’s the mentality of the next man up,” Cain said. “That’s what you need.”
It was that kind of night when Anderson exited with an injury for the fifth time this season. His other issues were all lower body-related; the 33-year-old was briefly questionable coming into this start after departing his last one against the Reds with a tweaked hamstring.
This time, there was nothing Anderson could do about it. After Cain’s two-run single gave the Brewers the lead in the top of the second inning, Wilmer Flores and Brandon Crawford led off the bottom half with successive singles, Crawford’s a liner that struck Anderson so flush on the left shoulder that the baseball caromed all the way to Christian Yelich in left field.
“It looked scary from center field,” Cain said.
“Thank God I shrugged,” Anderson said. “If I don’t shrug at the last second I probably take it off the chin and I’m still laying out there on the middle of the field.”
He threw a couple of practice tosses, stayed in the game and managed to retire the next three hitters in order.
“It didn’t feel great initially, but adrenaline is a hell of a thing,” Anderson said. “I think I started throwing harder. I probably blacked out a little bit. It’s one of those weird things. I’ve been criticized my whole career for coming out with knick-knack things. If I come out of a game, I come out for a meaningful reason. [Wednesday] just shows I can overcome some things.
“… I was proud of the way that I got through the second.”
It was another night on which perseverance paid off for the Brewers, who ended it with the biggest lead of any of MLB’s first-place teams.
“When you get in a situation like we did with Brett tonight, it has to go kind of perfect and right,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “A bunch of guys did a great job, starting with Hunter Strickland, who just continues to be an unsung hero with the innings he’s pitched and the job he’s done.”
“We’re playing for each other,” Strickland said, “and I think that’s the key. You pick up your guys wherever you can and whenever your name’s called.”