Brewers 9, Astros 5
MILWAUKEE -- It's a lot easier for Corey Hart to jog around the bases then sprint these days.
Hart, suffering from a foot injury that makes it difficult to run hard, homered twice, Marco Estrada struck out 11 in eight shutout innings, and the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Houston Astros 9-5 on Saturday night.
"As long as I can jog it's a lot easier," said Hart, who missed eight games this month with plantar fascitis in his left foot. "So, it was a little easier tonight. I'm trying to go as long as I can."
So are the Brewers, who barely remained in the playoff race when Washington beat St. Louis, 6-4, in 10 innings on Saturday night. Milwaukee is four games behind St. Louis with four games remaining, so any Brewers loss or Cardinals win would mean elimination.
Hart drove in four runs to back Estrada (5-7), who won for the third time in four starts. The right-hander allowed only four singles and a walk after giving up six earned runs in just four innings against Washington in his last outing.
Estrada allowed the leadoff runner to reach base in the second through fifth innings, but retired the final 12 batters he faced. The right-hander said pitching coach Rick Kranitz "got on him" in the locker room midway through the game.
"That shook me up," he said. "I was trying too hard early. He told me, `Hey, relax. Let's go."
Estrada spends time between innings in the locker room to cool off and initially described Kranitz as "yelling" at him.
"It was a little pep talk, that's all," he said. "I was a little erratic out there. I wasn't really throwing strikes."
Dallas Keuchel (3-8) was coming off three consecutive solid outings, but was battered for seven runs in just 2 1-3 innings as Houston lost its 106th game, tying the franchise record for losses set last year.
Interim manager Tony DeFrancesco said Keuchel had trouble with his command and velocity.
"That's a pretty potent offense over there and they showed why they're where they're at," he said. "Once you fall behind, he didn't have much left. He didn't have enough velocity, just one of those days for him."
Hart and Aramis Ramirez hit consecutive home runs in the second inning for a 2-0 lead. Hart added a three-run homer, his 30th, in the third to make it 7-0.
Hart was in a 4-for-28 slump since returning from the injury, but had little trouble against Keuchel. He grimaced while jogging the bases after his first home run, but remained in the game and hit another.
Keuchel had given up only two runs in 16 1-3 innings over his first three September starts. The left-hander retired the side in order in the first, but allowed consecutive home runs to Ramirez, his 27th, and Hart in the second.
Jonathan Lucroy followed with a single, Jean Segura walked and Estrada's sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third with two outs. Aoki then hit a bloop single to center, scoring both runners for a 4-0 lead.
Braun and Ramirez each singled to open the third and Hart connected.
Houston's best threat against Estrada came in the fourth when the first two batters singled. Scott Moore was then picked off second by Estrada, Fernando Martinez struck out and Jason Castro grounded out to end the inning.
The victory ensured the Brewers (81-77) will finish with at least a .500 record a year after going 96-66 and winning the NL Central. Milwaukee, though, was 54-66 on Aug. 19 and has gone 27-11 since.
NOTES: The Astros never got a runner past second base off Estrada. ... Brewers RHP Wily Peralta still had soreness in his right biceps during a bullpen session Saturday and manager Ron Roenicke said the rookie would not make his scheduled start Tuesday against San Diego. . Hart has hit 87 home runs the past three seasons. ... Milwaukee's Eric Farris had a pinch-hit infield single in the eighth, his first major league hit.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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