MILWAUKEE -- Even the shakiest of saves is worth celebrating for the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen these days.
The Brewers dismissed bullpen coach Stan Kyles before the game, then watched their relievers barely preserve this victory.
"Unbelievable, watching it all the way through," Axford said of the final play -- a gem by shortstop Cesar Izturis. "Once it came down to the out punch by the umpire, it felt like we won game five of the NLDS. I don't think I have ever fist pumped as hard as I had for a save."
Milwaukee scored four times in the seventh for a 4-3 edge, but the Astros tied it in the eighth against Livan Hernandez. Ransom's three-run shot gave the Brewers an 8-4 lead in the bottom half before Houston rallied for three runs in the ninth against Kameron Loe and John Axford.
Axford got J.D. Martinez to ground out with runners at the corners for his 17th save in 24 chances.
Ryan Braun, who leads the NL with 28 home runs, sat out because of blisters on his left hand.
Houston starter Bud Norris allowed three runs and four hits in six innings, but remained without a win in his last 10 starts.
"Bud did a good job," Houston manager Brad Mills said. "We wanted to try to get him through that seventh inning, but walking that leadoff hitter hurt him. He pitched really well. He threw the ball really well."
Milwaukee responded in its half.
Jonathan Lucroy led off with a hustle double off Francisco Cordero (1-3), lining the ball into left field and barely beating the throw into second with a head-first slide. Nyjer Morgan, attempting to bunt Lucroy over, reached when reliever Xavier Cedeno threw late to third. Lucroy scored when Izturis hit a dribbler in front of home plate that Cedeno couldn't pick up. Ransom followed with a 423-foot home run above the Brewers' bullpen in left.
Things got interesting again in the ninth.
Axford then came on, and Pearce hit a sacrifice fly to the warning track in right to score Altuve. Axford then hit Brett Wallace with a pitch. Martinez lined a single to the hole between short and third. Izturis dove to make the play and fired a one-hopper to first to get Martinez, as Corey Hart barely held on to the ball -- just another harrowing finish for the Brewers' bullpen.
"Great play by Izzie. Great by Corey," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "I know it was a snowcone sitting up there in the top of his glove.
"Boy, they sure aren't easy. This is tough every night."
Milwaukee starter Marco Estrada, whose last win came on Aug. 23, 2011, allowed six hits and three runs, two earned, in seven innings, striking out six and walking one. The Astros scored runs on sacrifice flies by Pearce in the first and Altuve in the third, and Scott Moore added a solo homer in the seventh, his fifth and third against the Brewers.
Houston had lost a franchise-worst 12 in a row before beating the Pittsburgh Pirates, 9-5, on Sunday -- the same day they announced they had traded third basemen Chris Johnson to the Arizona Diamondbacks for two prospects.
Pearce made a great play in the sixth, leaping into the right-field wall and a cage-covered window to catch a fly ball from Hart. ... Lucroy took to Twitter to react to Kyles' dismissal. "We are all to blame, not just one guy," Lucroy tweeted before the game. "Win as a team, lose as a team. Tough times don't last, tough people do. Let's get after it tonight." ... The Astros recalled Brett Wallace from Triple-A Oklahoma City before the game, and he started at first base. To make room for Wallace, the club optioned utility man Brian Bixler to Oklahoma City. ... Brewers CF Carlos Gomez was chosen NL co-Player of the Week. Gomez hit .346 with four home runs, 10 RBIs, 10 runs and three stolen bases in seven games last week.