MILWAUKEE -- Corey Hart's game-winning home run capped a rocky first half of the season for the Brewers' All-Star outfielder, one that started ugly and ended sensationally.
Hart hit a two-run shot in the ninth inning to give Milwaukee a dramatic 6-5 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday. It was Hart's 21st of the season and second game winner.Hart's season did not start well. He beat the Brewers in salary arbitration, then was tabbed as a platoon player sharing time in right field with the newly acquired Jim Edmonds. The team even left Hart's name off the All-Star ballot.Injuries eventually gave him a chance to play every day, and a move to second in the batting order helped erase some of the bitterness. Now, he's headed to the All-Star game as a starter in the outfield, taking the place of Atlanta's Jason Heyward, who is out with an injury."I was trying not to get released the first month of the year," Hart said. "It's a pretty good feeling to be able to come back like this."Hart said that he was angry with the way the season started."I felt like I had a chip on my shoulder and I wanted to prove them wrong," he said. "I talked to [hitting coach] Dale [Sveum] quite a bit going through this. They were going to help me get back to showing the guys I should be out there again. I figured if I worked hard enough I'd work my way back in the lineup."Hart also said that he understood why he fell from favor."I put myself in that spot," he said. "You always want to feel like your team has your back, but at the same time if you don't play well, I guess they only give you a certain leeway. I guess I had gotten to the point where they felt I shouldn't be a starter. I didn't cry about it or cry about playing time. I just fought to prove them wrong and I feel like I have."Hart had struck out twice, flied out and hit into a double play Sunday before his heroics in the ninth inning.The Brewers trailed 5-4 when Edmonds led off with a ground-rule double. Rickie Weeks flied out before Hart belted a 2-0 pitch from Octavio Dotel (2-2) over the wall in left for his second game-ending home run of the season.Dotel had his streak of seven straight saves snapped Friday night when he allowed one run in the ninth as the Brewers took the first game of the series.Lastings Milledge came to the defense of the Pirates bullpen, which has converted 20 of 30 save opportunities."Nobody can question what the bullpen's been doing," he said. "They've been unstoppable out there the whole year. We haven't given them too much to work with throughout the year."John Axford (5-1) allowed a run in the ninth but picked up the win for Milwaukee, which swept the three-game series and handed Pittsburgh its sixth straight loss. The Brewers had lost five straight before the series, and improved to 8-3 against the Pirates this season.Pittsburgh was also swept by Houston and hasn't won since beating Philadelphia last Sunday.The Pirates had taken the lead in their half of the ninth inning when Ronny Cedeno bunted down the first-base line and slid past Prince Fielder, who fielded the ball and tried to tag him before reaching first base. Delwyn Young punched a single through the gap and Andrew McCutchen hit his second sacrifice fly, allowing Cedeno to easily beat Hart's throw to the plate.Pittsburgh never trailed until the game-ending homer by Hart.Milledge hit a solo home run for Pittsburgh, and starting pitcher Brad Lincoln and McCutchen each drove in runs to make it 3-0 in the second inning.Milwaukee scored in the third on Weeks' sacrifice fly, and managed to tie the game in the fourth when Ryan Braun -- the only Brewers player in franchise history to start three straight All-Star games -- hit a solo shot and George Kottaras added another two outs later.The home runs continued in the sixth when Pedro Alvarez went deep for Pittsburgh, the major league-leading 21st allowed by Milwaukee starter Randy Wolf.The Brewers still trailed in the eighth when Braun singled up the middle, and Carlos Gomez -- hitting just .038 with runners in scoring position and two outs -- lined an 0-2 pitch into right that tied the game again.Braun snapped a 1-for-21 stretch by driving in the game-winner in the 10th inning Friday night. He also hit his first home run since June 28 on Saturday night.
Fielder played in his 274th consecutive game, the longest active streak in the majors, and tied the franchise record set by Hall of Famer Robin Yount (1987-89). ... Asked before the game about his team's first half, Brewers manager Ken Macha said, "There are pieces in place. We've seen brilliance from all areas, and we've seen bad play from all areas."