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PIT@MIL: Weeks homers, goes 3-for-4 to lead Brewers

MILWAUKEE -- With James McDonald on the mound for the Pirates and Yovani Gallardo for the Brewers, this should have been a pitchers' duel. These were No. 1 starters with ERAs just above 3.50. They were working on a bright, sunny Sunday at Miller Park, where daytime conditions are notoriously troublesome for hitters.

So much for "should have." This turned into a home run derby.

The Brewers blasted five homers before the end of the fourth inning, then had to hold on beat the Pirates, 12-8, finishing a three-game sweep and further fueling a faint but growing hope for a Milwaukee miracle.

"Oh, we're in it," said outfielder Ryan Braun. "One hundred percent."

He paused.

"It's not easy," Braun conceded. "We recognize it's not easy, but we just continue to try to play good baseball. All year, we've been waiting to put together a stretch like this where we're doing everything well at the same time."

It's a stretch that has seen the Brewers win 11 of 13 games, all against the Pirates and Cubs, and move from 12 1/2 games to within 6 1/2 games of the second National League Wild Card. They have clawed to within three games of .500 for the first time since July 19, which was an off-day preceding the dismal, 0-6 road trip that pushed team brass to trade away Zack Greinke before the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Gallardo filled the void by pitching at least seven innings in each of his first six starts after the Greinke trade, and entered Sunday leading the Majors with 22 quality starts. This was not one of them.

Gallardo hit his 10th career home run but had a terrible day on the mound, allowing seven earned runs on 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings. The Brewers tried to get him through the five full innings he needed to qualify for the win but Gallardo couldn't do it, and was pulled after needing 119 pitches to record 14 outs.

The Brewers fought off the Pirates comeback, with Kameron Loe earning the win in relief and John Axford logging his 23rd save.

"I think we saw our name on the Wild Card standings on MLB [Network] for the first time today," Loe said. "To be within striking distance right now is awesome. Hey, we've got hope. We'll take it."

Is it crazy to be looking at the standings when your team is 6 1/2 games out, and three teams -- the Dodgers, Pirates and D-backs -- are in the way?

"Well, I know we're looking at them a lot more than we were a couple of weeks ago," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "We're playing really good ball, and it gets you excited about getting on a roll and seeing what happens."

The Brewers wasted no time getting on a roll Sunday, when they scored in each of the first four innings and five of the first six.

Braun hit a 458-foot, three-run home run in the first. Jeff Bianchi and Rickie Weeks went deep in the second inning -- Weeks' was a two-out, two-run blast off the scoreboard that traveled 460 feet. Carlos Gomez hit another two-out, two-run homer in the third inning and Gallardo hit a line-drive solo shot off reliever Chris Lerux leading off a three-run fourth.

By the end of the sixth, eight of the Brewers' nine starting players had a hit, seven had scored a run and six had driven one in. Weeks had already scored four times, and Norichika Aoki three times. 

McDonald lasted only 2 2/3 innings and was charged with eight runs, seven earned, on six hits. He struck out the side in each of the first two innings, but surrendered three home runs in the same span that traveled a combined 1,323 feet, and four homers overall.

"You need a stop," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We just made too many mistakes on the mound."

Gallardo struggled just as mightily, allowing home runs to Michael McKenry and Gaby Sanchez before Garrett Jones homered off Loe in the sixth.

It marked the fifth time in Miller Park history and the second time this season that the Brewers and their opponent combined for at least eight home runs in a game. The record is nine home runs, most recently on May 23, 2002, when Dodgers outfielder Shawn Green hit four home runs and L.A. combined to hit eight.

Gallardo entered the fifth inning with an 11-4 lead, but allowed a two-run home run to Sanchez and a two-out, RBI single to recent callup Brock Holt. Gallardo knew going into that at-bat it would be his final hitter.

"Even in the bullpen, I think I was battling a little bit to find that rhythm and consistency with my release point," he said. "It's just frustrating for sure. The guys put up six runs in the first two innings and you have to go out and put zeros on the board. It was just a crazy game today, but we were able to get the win, and that's the important thing today."

The next 11 days will determine whether the Brewers' magical run is for real. They begin a four-game series in Miami on Monday, followed by consecutive series against the current Wild Card leaders -- the Cardinals, in St. Louis, followed by the Braves at home.

"We've not giving up hope at any point," Braun said. "I think we have a resilient team. We've certainly dealt with our share of adversity. This is the best baseball we've played to this point, and we absolutely think we're still in it."

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