PITTSBURGH — John Axford looked to his left and the St. Louis Cardinals-Houston Astros game was on one clubhouse television. He looked to another TV on his right and saw the Los Angeles Dodgers playing the Washington Nationals.
The Milwaukee Brewers closer smiled.
“We’re not scoreboard watching,” Axford said. “Not at all.”
Axford was fibbing, of course.
Marco Estrada pitched seven scoreless innings and rookie shortstop Jean Segura hit a double and triple Wednesday night as the surging Brewers stayed in contention for a postseason berth with a 3-1 victory over the fading Pittsburgh Pirates.
Estrada (4-6) allowed three hits and retired the last 10 batters he faced in improving to 4-1 with a 1.23 ERA in his last six starts. He struck out four and walked one.
“We’re just having a lot of fun,” Estrada said as he teammates roared in the background while watching Washington post a six-run inning. “That’s the great thing about our team. We have a real fun group and I think that’s helped us this season. Even when it looked like we were out of it, we never gave up. We just kept playing.”
Estrada wound up having more fun than he expected. He said he felt “weird” while warming up before the game because he had gone seven days between starts.
“It took me a while to feel comfortable,” Estrada said. “I felt like I hadn’t pitch in a long time.”
Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke felt the extra rest helped Estrada.
“I know pitchers like to stay in their routine but when you get to this time of the season guys need more time off,” Roenicke said. “The extra days off can really help and they did in Marco’s case. His command wasn’t really good early but it got a lot better as the game went on.”
Axford worked around Andrew McCutchen’s leadoff home run in the ninth inning, his 29th, for his 30th save in 38 opportunities. The homer broke a string of 22 scoreless innings for the Pittsburgh bullpen.
Milwaukee has won four straight games, seven of eight and 22 of 28. They entered the day 2 1-2 games behind St. Louis in the race for the second NL wild card.
The Brewers were 12 1-2 games out of the second wild card on Aug. 19, three weeks after trading ace pitcher Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels.
“If anything, the Greinke trade gave us some motivation,” Axford said. “We didn’t feel in the clubhouse like we were out of it. We never gave up.”
Pittsburgh has lost 14 of 18 and 20 of 27 to drop to 74-74, the first time they have been at .500 since they were 26-26 on June 2. The Pirates have had 19 consecutive losing seasons, a major North American professional sports record.
“We haven’t played well and it’s been for a while,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Milwaukee’s Norichika Aoki led off the game by hitting rookie Kyle McPherson’s second pitch into the stands in right for his ninth home run. Aoki, Segura and Rickie Weeks each had two of the Brewers’ 11 hits.
McPherson (0-1) took the loss in his first major league start, giving up two runs and seven hits in 4 1-3 innings. The Brewers scored their other run off McPherson in the fifth inning. Segura hit a leadoff double, advanced on a balk and scored on Estrada’s single.
McPherson had made seven relief appearances, posting a 1.54 ERA, and was moved into the rotation in place of James McDonald, who was 2-5 with a 6.66 ERA in his last 10 games.
Segura tripled to lead off the seventh and scored when second baseman Brock Holt was charged with an error for mishandling Estrada’s grounder. That put Milwaukee ahead 3-0.
McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez had two hits apiece for Pittsburgh.
The Brewers have won six straight games against Pittsburgh.
“Sometimes you just have your mojo against another team and that seems to be the case with us against the Pirates,” Roenicke said.