Cirillo, who had three hits in his previous 19 pinch-hit at bats, singled home the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning Wednesday night, leading the Milwaukee Brewers to a 7-6 victory over the Chicago Cubs.
“I thought he was just going to ride it out with sliders, that’s basically what he’s done to me all year when I’ve gotten behind on him,” said Cirillo, who was behind 0-2 to Dempster. “He threw a changeup, and I didn’t even really know he threw a changeup.”
Cirillo’s opportunity came when Nelson Cruz walked off Jermain Van Buren, the fifth Cubs reliever, leading off the bottom of the ninth. Bill Hall reached on a fielder’s choice and Rickie Weeks was intentionally walked. Ryan Dempster relieved Van Buren (0-2) and struck Damian Miller.
Van Buren said he simply didn’t do his job.
“Our relievers didn’t do that bad,” Van Buren said. “I just kind of stunk, though. I’ve got to go after hitters a lot better.”
Cirillo batted for Derrick Turnbow (7-1), who blew his fourth save in the ninth as the Cubs tied the game with two runs. Hall and Weeks advanced on a double steal before Cirillo lined a 2-2 pitch to left to drive in Hall.
“We fought back and found out a way to pull it out in the end,” Hall said. “A win is a win, especially right now this late in the season with the goal we’re trying to get to.”
The Brewers moved within one game of .500 at 75-76, and pulled 1 1/2 games ahead of the Cubs for third place in the NL Central. Milwaukee has not had a winning record since May 27 when it was 24-23.
Turnbow had his streak of 12 consecutive saves end as he failed to protect a 6-4 lead in the top of the inning.
With one out, Neifi Perez doubled. Todd Walker reached on Weeks’ throwing error, his second of the game. After Ryan Theriot ran for Walker, Derrek Lee hit a run-scoring infield single off the glove of shortstop J.J. Hardy. One out later, Jeromy Burnitz lined a single to center to score Theriot with the tying run.
The Brewers took a 5-4 lead against three relievers in the bottom of the seventh. Brady Clark opened with a walk off Michael Wuertz. One out later, Lyle Overbay singled against Will Ohman sending Clark to second. Roberto Novoa replaced Ohman and loaded the bases on a walk to Carlos Lee. With two outs, Hall lined to left to drive in two runs.
“It was a struggle night for both teams’ relievers,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. “They just happened to have the last at bat.”
Hardy drove in a run with a fielder’s choice in the eighth to make it 6-4.
The Cubs took 4-3 lead in the top of the seventh against reliever Justin Lehr. Pinch-hitter Jose Macias led off with single and Derrek Lee walked two outs later. Nomar Garciaparra then lined a double to the wall in right-center field.
Macias scored on the hit and Weeks’ relay throw short-hopped catcher Damian Miller, allowing Lee to score on the throwing error.
Cubs starter Mark Prior allowed three runs on six hits in six innings. He walked four and struck out 10, one shy of his season-high set Aug. 9 against Cincinnati. He had two hits and two RBIs that accounted for all Cubs’ runs until Garciaparra’s hit.
Milwaukee’s Tomo Ohka left with a 3-2 lead after he was pinch hit for in the sixth. He allowed two runs on seven hits in six innings. He struck out one and walked two in his fourth career appearance against the Cubs.
The Brewers took a 1-0 lead in the first on Lee’s RBI double, his career-high 40th two-base hit.
Prior helped himself by giving the Cubs a 2-1 lead with a RBI singles in the second and fourth innings.
Clark put the Brewers back on top in the bottom of the fourth with a two-run homer, his third of four hits in the game.
With 11 games left, the Brewers’ best winning streak and worst losing one both were seven games this season. … Prior struck out the side in the second, the 38th time he’s done that this season and first since Aug. 9 against Cincinnati. … Overbay got a huge jump on Prior and stole his first base of the season in the fifth. … The game drew 30,049 fans for a season total of 2,026,961 in 73 games. It was the second consecutive year Milwaukee topped 2 million.