The Milwaukee Brewers look better than they have in a decade—at least through three games.
One strike away from their first defeat, the Brewers rallied in the ninth inning against LaTroy Hawkins and got RBI singles from Junior Spivey and Lyle Overbay in the 12th to beat the Cubs 6-3 Friday.
No one is likely to declare Milwaukee the favorite in the NL Central just yet. But it’s the first time since 1995 that the Brewers are 3-0, and all the wins have come on the road.
“This start is big,” said Overbay, whose two-out double in the ninth scored Spivey from first to tie the game 3-all. “If we can stay healthy, we’re going to be competing. We’re not going to be an easy team to get a couple of wins from.”
The combination of a relief letdown and the inability to hit in the clutch provided a sickeningly familiar finish for the Cubs, who dropped two 12-inning games at home to the Reds during their season-ending collapse last year. Chicago’s bullpen had 25 blown saves in 67 chances last year, nine of those by Hawkins.
“We’ve been getting killed by the two-out hit,” said Cubs manager Dusty Baker, whose team fell to 1-3. “For a home opener, it’s a tough loss. We’ve just got to keep working on it and hope his (Hawkins’) confidence isn’t waning.”
Hawkins insisted it isn’t.
“It happens,” he said. “He (Overbay) hit the ball away. That’s fine. I didn’t put it in his powerhouse. He hit my pitch. What else can I do?”
Milwaukee’s three-run 12th ended a 4-hour, 28-minute game of missed opportunities and sloppy play by both teams.
Milwaukee stranded 16 runners and had two more thrown out trying to steal. Kerry Wood and seven Cubs relievers combined to walk 12, and Wood walked in the tying run in the sixth. The two teams combined for 18 walks and 27 men left on.
Spivey snapped the tie with a two-run liner to left after the Brewers loaded the bases off Jon Leicester (0-1) when Russell Branyan and J.J. Hardy singled and Brady Clark was hit by a pitch. Overbay followed with a single off Todd Wellemeyer.
“It was a long day,” Brewers manager Ned Yost said. “We had opportunities throughout the course of the game but we didn’t really capitalize. But we capitalized when we needed to.”
Carlos Lee, a career .352 hitter in Wrigley coming in, drove in Milwaukee’s other run with a first-inning double.
Jeromy Burnitz, Sosa’s successor in right field, nearly was the hero. Signed as a free agent after Sosa was traded to Baltimore, Burnitz hit a go-ahead double just inside the third-base bag in the sixth to score Aramis Ramirez. He was the first right fielder other than Sosa to start for the Cubs in their home opener since 1992.
Jason Dubois drove in the Cubs’ first two runs with a first-inning single.
Wood limited the Brewers to four hits and had seven strikeouts in 5 2-3 innings but once again lacked of control. He walked Russell Branyan with the bases loaded in the sixth and finished with five walks and a hit batter. Only 52 of his 102 pitches were strikes.
“He threw the ball pretty good,” Baker said. “He threw a lot of pitches in a short period of time, and his control probably wasn’t where he wanted it to be.”
Wood was making only his second start since coming down with bursitis in his right shoulder on March 9.
Retired 2B Ryne Sandberg, a newly elected Hall of Famer, threw out the first ball and joined fellow ex-Cubs greats Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and Billy Williams in singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch. … Geoff Jenkins struck out four times, stranding eight. … Brewers starter Chris Capuano gave up three runs on five hits in 5 1-3 innings.