Brewers to host Diamondbacks in NL series
Zack Greinke was the perfect choice to start with the Milwaukee Brewers needing one more home win.
Greinke capped an undefeated season at home with six innings on three days' rest to help the NL Central champions clinch home-field advantage in the first round of playoffs with a 7-3 victory over Pittsburgh on Wednesday night.
"Even though we were in the playoffs, it's been exciting still just knowing you're making it and you still had to play for home field," Greinke said. "It was good."
Carlos Gomez, Corey Hart and Jonathan Lucroy homered for the Brewers, who set a franchise record with 96 wins and open an NL division series against the NL West champion Arizona Diamondbacks at Miller Park on Saturday.
"This is what it's all about. We talk about playing meaningful games in September so you can get to October," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "Once you get into October, it's really fun to see who is going to be that guy that steps up and lights that moment where it's on him. You see it every year, somebody steps up big you don't think is going to. Those are special times."
Ryan Braun's pursuit of Mets shortstop Jose Reyes for the NL batting title ended early. He went 0 for 4 to finish at .332. Reyes hit .337.
"I'm a little disappointed, of course, but the chances of actually going 3 for 4 weren't likely," Braun said. "It's extremely difficult and extremely challenging to get to the postseason. That by far has been my top priority."
Greinke (16-6) allowed two runs in six innings to finish 11-0 in 15 starts at home, where the Brewers were a major league best 57-24.
General manager Doug Melvin's trades for the 2009 AL Cy Young winner along with Shaun Marcum in December have been two main reasons the Brewers clinched their first division title since winning the AL East in 1982.
"It's all worked out better than I can imagine so far," Greinke said. "It's been great. It's been a good year."
Milwaukee (96-66) finished with one more win this season than in 1979 and '82, when the franchise made its only World Series appearance.
Lucroy and Hart hit solo homers in the third.
After Pittsburgh's Jason Jaramillo cut the lead in half with an RBI single in the fourth, Gomez answered in the bottom of the inning with a three-run shot with two outs off rookie starter Jeff Locke (0-3) that put Milwaukee ahead 5-1.
Nyjer Morgan waved his arms frantically in jest to cool down Gomez in the dugout with Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks chuckling at their teammate's big moment.
Jerry Hairston added an RBI single in the fifth and Hart had a sacrifice fly in the sixth for Milwaukee.
Fielder, who will be a free agent after the season, received a standing ovation when he was removed before the start of the ninth and answered the curtain call with a wide smile and a tip of his cap.
"It was real cool," said Fielder, who thought he would be traded in the offseason and received a similar cheer in his final game last year. "It was a little different. A lot different from last year, that's a good thing, though."
Pittsburgh scored runs in the sixth and eighth but never mounted a serious comeback as the Pirates (72-90) wrapped up their 19th straight losing season with another defeat in Milwaukee. Pittsburgh is 4-38 in Milwaukee since 2007.
"We got 72. That's what we got. And we've got a lot of work to do," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "It's like a wife asking her husband what kind of leftovers you want … it's still leftovers."
Greinke joined teammate Yovani Gallardo with 200 strikeouts or more in the fourth inning when he fanned Ronny Cedeno. He finished with four strikeouts to give him 201 for the season, a surprise after Greinke missed the first month after cracking a rib playing pickup basketball.
Greinke also became the first NL pitcher since Orel Hershiser (12-0) in 1985 to finish perfect at home with an 11-0 record or better. Milwaukee won all 15 of Greinke's games in Miller Park.
But that home dominance won't carry over to the first round of the playoffs. Because Milwaukee needed a win on Wednesday to ensure home-field advantage, Greinke likely won't be used until Game 3 on the road of the NLDS.
"I would say he's ruled out of a Game 2," Roenicke said. "I was a little uncomfortable bringing him back today. I don't think that's fair to him to bring him back again on three days unless he comes to me and says he feels great."
Greinke said he could return on short rest again Sunday if Roenicke asks.
"I'm sure he'll make the decision that he thinks is best for the team," Greinke said. "So, we'll see."
Reyes went 1 for 1 with a bunt hit to raise his batting average to .337 before asking out of New York's 3-0 win over Cincinnati. Braun refused to criticize Reyes' decision before the Brewers played, saying that he still had a chance to win the title.
Braun needed three hits, but grounded to third base to end the first and into a fielder's choice to finish the third with the sellout crowd continuing its "M-V-P" chorus during each at-bat.
"We're really good here, we've had a lot of success here at home," Braun said. "We're really confident in our ability to win games here at home. I'm sure our fans will create an amazing atmosphere and environment like they have all year."