MILWAUKEE -- For the first time in three weeks, the pennant-hungry Brewers took care of business against a team below the break-even point.
Domingo Santana's two-run double provided a lead amid a four-run third inning, and Brewers manager Craig Counsell pieced together 27 outs with seven different pitchers in a 5-2 win over the Pirates at Miller Park, snapping Milwaukee's five-game losing streak against teams with sub-.500 records.
The victory kept the Brewers 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Cubs, who beat the Mets on Tuesday, and a half-game behind the Cardinals in the National League Central. It also kept the Brewers within four games back of the Rockies, who also won Tuesday, for the second NL Wild Card spot.
While Milwaukee hitters took their hacks against Pirates starter Gerrit Cole, Counsell wore a path between the dugout and the pitcher's mound on what amounted to a bullpen day for the Brewers. Brent Suter started the game but is not stretched out, so he was lifted after three innings for reliever Jeremy Jeffress, who made way for Oliver Drake, and onward to Jared Hughes, Anthony Swarzak, Josh Hader and Corey Knebel. Jeffress was awarded the victory after working 1 1/3 scoreless innings, while Knebel converted his 35th save, and 19th in a row.
"Johnny Wholestaff is pretty dirty," Cole said. "Different looks every inning, that's tough to deal with. It just wasn't our night."
Suter surrendered two runs while throwing 50 pitches and will get another start, said Counsell. Milwaukee's rotation is in flux since ace Jimmy Nelson went down with a season-ending shoulder injury over the weekend.
"I'm sure we're going to have to win games on nights that look like this," Counsell said. "And we can do it. I think we're constructed right now to where we can do it."
Cole, who entered the day with a 2.33 ERA in four starts against Milwaukee this season, took the loss after surrendering five earned runs on seven hits in six innings. It was somewhat representative of Cole's season: bright spots obscured by an undesirable outcome. He tied a season high with 10 strikeouts and completed six innings for the 16th time in his last 17 starts, but one big inning by the Brewers cost him.
"That one just got away from us," Cole said. "I felt like I wasn't quite as sharp that inning as I was in the other innings. They smelled blood in the water."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Tied at the top: The Brewers are 51-34 when they score first this season, making Eric Thames' second-inning solo home run mean as much for the team as it meant for Thames. It was his first long ball in September after an August in which Thames hit .173 with a .691 OPS, his lowest monthly marks this season. With his 29th home run, Thames tied Travis Shaw atop the Brewers' team leaderboard.
"Every time he hits one, I say, 'I want to hit one, too.' Then I hit one, and he says the same thing," Thames said. "It's kind of a friendly little battle."
Five-spot: The Brewers loaded the bases against Cole with nobody out in the third inning, and this time, they cashed in. Ryan Braun's run-scoring fielder's choice tied the game at 2, Santana's double into the left-field corner provided a 4-2 lead, and Thames added insurance with a run-scoring single into the Pirates' defensive shift. Santana tried to score a second run on the play but was cut down at home plate without a slide. The Brewers briefly considered challenging that call, but opted to settle for their 5-2 lead.
"It was really less than a handful of pitches that caused the scoring," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "I don't think it was anything more than a couple breaking balls up in the zone they were able to get to with men on base to score runs."
"Heck yeah, we can do it. Especially with this bullpen effort that we have behind us, and the defense and the offense coming together like it did tonight. We can do it." -- Suter, when asked whether it's plausible to believe the Brewers can survive in a pennant race without a set five-man rotation
"I've been pretty sharp, for the most part, every time I've faced them. They're a good club. I don't think they're giving up at-bats or anything like that. We're just making good pitches and picking away at the corners at times. Tonight was the first time we really had an inning kind of get away from us. ... Tonight was just unfortunate."-- Cole, on recording two 10-strikeout games against the Brewers this season
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According to Baseball-Reference.com data, the Brewers are the first team since 1901 to feature seven players with 10 or more home runs and 10 or more stolen bases in a single season. Shaw became the 10th when he stole his 10th base of the year in the eighth inning. The others are Orlando Arcia (14 homers, 13 steals), Braun (15/11), Keon Broxton (20/19), Hernan Perez (14/12), Santana (24/13) and Jonathan Villar (11/23).
The Brewers dealt Cole his first loss on the road since May 22 in Atlanta. The right-hander was 8-0 over his previous nine road starts. He fell to 1-3 with a 5.19 ERA in six career starts at Miller Park.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates: Rookie right-hander Tyler Glasnow will rejoin the rotation on Wednesday night at Miller Park after spending the better part of three months in Triple-A. Given a spot in the Opening Day rotation, Glasnow struggled through 12 starts for Pittsburgh then rediscovered his form in Indianapolis. As they look toward 2018, the Bucs hope to see signs of progress from Glasnow when he takes the mound against the Brewers in the finale. First pitch is scheduled for 8:10 p.m. ET.
Brewers:Chase Anderson will start on three days' rest when the series concludes at 7:10 p.m. CT on Wednesday. He'll pitch in the spot vacated by Brewers ace Jimmy Nelson, who sustained a season-ending shoulder injury diving back to first base on Friday in Chicago. Anderson pitched the next day, and threw 67 pitches in five scoreless innings before the Brewers pulled him from the game with a 14-0 lead, making him an option to work on short rest.