Brewers sweep the Pirates

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Gazette wire services
August 31, 2009
— There’s a little payback.

With that nightmarish three-game sweep in Pittsburgh still a fresh memory, the Milwaukee Brewers were able to scrape some of that nasty taste from their tongues Sunday afternoon at Miller Park.

The Brewers returned the inhospitable act by completing a sweep of the Pirates, 4-1, no matter if the series was a bit less significant than when the Pirates did it nearly two weeks ago.

Sunday’s victory also was the 21st in a row at home over Pittsburgh, marking the longest home winning streak over one team since the Cleveland Indians beat the St. Louis Browns/Baltimore Orioles 27 consecutive times from 1952-’54.

“That’s obviously a horrible stat,” said Pirates third baseman Andy LaRoche, a minor leaguer for the Dodgers when Pittsburgh last won in Milwaukee on May 3, 2007. “I knew it was a lot. I didn’t know how many it was. We still go out there and try to win no matter who we’re playing.”

Milwaukee has dominated Pittsburgh recently, going 33-12, no matter where the teams meet in the last three seasons.

The streak has been one of the lone bright spots in Milwaukee’s disappointing summer after the Brewers had high hopes to return to the postseason.

Milwaukee entered July with a two-game lead in the National League Central, but just finished 10-12 in a 22-game stretch against opponents with sub-.500 records while St. Louis opened up a huge lead in the division.

Making the feat more impressive is the Brewers did it in a day game and are now 16-26 under the sunlight. They also improved to 6-15 on Sundays just before heading into a three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals, leaders in the National League Central.

“We’re just trying to put a little string together,” Brewers manager Ken Macha said.

“I think we’re looking forward to St. Louis. We have to win games. It’s better going to St. Louis winning three than how we (got swept) against Cincinnati.”

“When you’re 12 games out, every game is like hanging on the cliff,” Craig Counsell said.

Now, the Brewers play the Cardinals nine more times—including six times in the next nine days, starting Tuesday—and face the Cubs six times down the stretch. The Brewers also have series with San Francisco and Colorado in September.

“The Cardinals are next. It doesn’t seem like they ever lose,” Counsell said. “Their starting pitching is phenomenal. You look at the guys you’re going to face, and you’ve got your work cut out for you.”

Right-hander Jeff Suppan and Counsell were the veteran reasons Sunday’s finale fell to the Brewers.

In his second start since returning from the disabled list with an oblique strain, Suppan threw six innings and gave up just a run thanks to four double plays that helped him pitch around eight hits.

Suppan, whose bobblehead doll was the featured promotion at Miller Park on Sunday, had been pretty awful in his previous 13 innings, allowing 19 runs on 26 hits, but he went from concentrating on his modified mechanics, which compensated for the side injury, to focusing on executing pitches.

He located his fastball and splitter consistently and got 13 ground-ball outs.

Counsell was responsible for two of the double plays that helped Suppan survive what could have turned into crooked-number innings.

“I think as much as a momentum killer, it’s a confidence boost to the pitcher,” said third baseman Casey McGehee of the double plays. McGehee, who hit his 11th home run in the second inning added: “It’s just saying that he doesn’t have to do it all himself. He’s got guys out there helping.”

“Counsell, what a professional this guy is,” Macha said. “Today was his game.”

Everyone seemed to agree.

“He’s just consistent,” McGehee said. “You know what you’re going to get from him whether he’s starting or coming off the bench. He’s prepared for every situation.

“He’s been a big help to me, asking him questions or whatever. He’s just a professional.”

With a 1-1 game, McGehee led off the fifth with a single against Ross Ohlendorf (11-9), and Jason Kendall doubled.

Ohlendorf intentionally walked Frank Catalanotto to bring up Suppan, who laid off a close 2-2 pitch before taking ball four that walked in McGehee. Ohlendorf still wasl struggling with Suppan’s at-bat after the game.

“It was the walk to the pitcher that really hurt us,” he said. “He was the one who made a big difference in the game.

“That was what I was really upset about.”

Suppan was coy when asked if he was told to take the whole way during his at-bat.

“I was just looking for a good pitch. I was ready to swing,” Suppan said.

Well, what about the second strike down the middle? Or the close pitch at 2-2?

“You don’t have to swing at them all,” Suppan joked. “I was going to make sure I had a pitch to hit. Fortunately, I had a good eye, and he walked me.”

After Felipe Lopez struck out, Counsell singled just over LaRoche to drive in two more runs to give Milwaukee a 4-1 lead.

Counsell made a diving grab that limited Ohlendorf to an infield single in the fourth and saved a run, and also was part of double plays in the first, fifth and sixth innings.

“A tremendous day for Counsell,” Brewers manager Ken Macha said. “Today was his game.”

To top it off, Trevor Hoffman worked around a leadoff double by Brandon Moss in the ninth for his 29th save this season.

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