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PIT@MIL: Hart hammers walk-off homer in ninth inning

MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers didn't have their first hit until the sixth inning, or their second hit until the seventh. Reliever Jim Henderson suffered the team's Major League-worst 26th blown save in the eighth. John Axford loaded the bases in the ninth.

And yet the Brewers danced around the infield on Saturday night at Miller Park after Corey Hart's home run leading off the bottom of the ninth, a blast that sealed a 3-2 win over the Pirates. It was the Brewers' 10th victory in their last 12 games.

Don't look now, but Milwaukee is trying to sneak back into the postseason hunt.

"I think teams are starting to notice that we're not going away," Hart said.

Truth be told, the Brewers are just starting to notice themselves. They traded away Zack Greinke in July and shut down the first of their young pitchers on Saturday, but a 10-2 record in a run of games against the Pirates and Cubs has them hanging around in the standings. Milwaukee sits 7 1/2 games out of the second National League Wild Card spot.

Considering the number of teams that stand in the Brewers' way -- including the Pirates, who are only 1 1/2 games back in both the division and the Wild Card races -- and that just 30 games remain, it will take something just shy of a miracle.

The 2011 Cardinals made teams believe in miracles.

"Last year, St. Louis was like, eight, nine games out in September, and they won the World Series," said center fielder Carlos Gomez, who created one Brewers run on Saturday with his speed and another with his bat.

He added: "We have to win every single game, come here with intensity and adrenaline and put pressure on the other team, let them know that we're still alive."

They were barely alive for most of the night against Pirates starter A.J. Burnett, who had a no-hitter intact long after Gomez scored the Brewers' first run.

Gomez walked in the third inning, stole second and third base and then scampered home on what appeared to begin as a suicide squeeze but turned into a wild pitch, tying the game at 1. In the seventh, an inning after Rickie Weeks had dashed Burnett's hope for a no-hitter, Gomez gave the Brewers their first lead when he doubled for only the Brewers' second hit, scoring Hart after a walk.

That made it 2-1, and the Brewers trusted the eighth inning to Henderson, who put himself in trouble by walking the leadoff man. The Pirates sacrificed the runner to second, and with two outs Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke opted to challenge Pirates star Andrew McCutchen with first base open.

He could have walked McCutchen and had left-hander Manny Parra, who was warming in the bullpen, face Garrett Jones instead. Jones is a healthy 5-for-14 against Parra.

"If you walk McCutchen, you're putting the winning run on. I don't know if that's the right time to do that," Roenicke said. "If we get behind in the count, then we would probably put him on."

Henderson instead got ahead of McCutchen, and threw a good inside fastball on 0-and-1 that sawed the hitter's bat in half. McCutchen happened to muscle it over second baseman Weeks' head for a tying single and another Brewers blown save.

The hit was bad luck. But Roenicke noted that the rally started, like so many against Brewers relievers this season, with a walk.

"We can't continue to do that," Roenicke said.

Axford found more trouble in the top of the ninth after Rod Barajas hit a two-out single. The Pirates sent up two pinch-hitters and Axford walked both, just missing the strike zone, to load the bases for Pittsburgh leadoff man Alex Presley. He took ball one, then looked at three consecutive fastballs to become the inning-ending out.

Two pitches into the bottom of the ninth, against Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan, Hart delivered the game-winning homer. It was the Brewers' seventh walk-off win this season, and boosted Axford's win-loss record to 5-7.

"A hanging breaking ball," Hanrahan said. "Poorly executed. That might've been Corey's first hit off me."

Almost. Hart had been 1-for-10, with a single and seven strikeouts against Hanrahan prior to this meeting.

"Of course it's frustrating," said Hanrahan. "These guys battled their butts off, and I come in and throw two pitches and the game is over? Just a poorly executed pitch."

The first seven innings were owned by the starters.

Pittsburgh's A.J. Burnett allowed only two runs and two hits in 6 2/3 innings, flirting with a no-hitter into the sixth inning. But Burnett was matched by Brewers starter Marco Estrada, who surrendered a Pedro Alvarez home run in the second inning but only allowed three other hits, while striking out 10 batters and matching his career high by working seven innings.

Estrada's key moment came when he dueled again with Alvarez in the sixth, this time with the bases loaded, the teams tied at 1 and the Pirates threatening to break open the game. Alvarez fouled off four consecutive full-count offerings before looking at Estrada's 11th pitch -- a called third strike on the outside corner that preserved the 1-1 tie.

"It was awesome. You don't want to be in those situations, but when you come out on top of it, it feels really good," Estrada said. "I made a lot of good pitches and he kept fouling them off, fouling them off. It was just a battle. That last pitch, I just happened to throw it exactly where I needed to and he let it go and it was called strike three."

Hart insisted the Brewers aren't dead yet.

"A lot of people counted us out a long time ago, and we keep finding ourselves in the win column," Hart said. "There's still a lot of faith in this clubhouse, and it's exciting to go out there every day and try to prove people wrong."

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