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STL@MIL: Prince's two-run homer puts the Brewers up

MILWAUKEE -- Prince Fielder's latest mammoth home run powered the Brewers all the way to the top of the National League Central.

Fielder's 440-foot, two-run blast capped a four-run flurry in the sixth inning, Shaun Marcum delivered another quality start and the Brewers thrilled a sellout crowd with a 4-3 win over the Cardinals on Sunday. It capped a three-game series sweep and pushed Milwaukee a half-game ahead of St. Louis in the division.

The Cardinals had owned first place since May 19, and all but five days since April 20. But the Brewers have taken over thanks to a month-long stretch in which they are baseball's hottest team -- 24-8 since a loss in St. Louis on May 8. They hold sole possession of first place for the first time since July 1, 2009, and the last time they were in first this late in the season was July 4 of that year, which they shared.

But here's a dose of reality from both managers, Tony La Russa of the Cardinals and Ron Roenicke of the Brewers: It's June 12.

"I don't want to get melodramatic," La Russa said. "We came here to win the series and we got beat in the series. They out-managed us, they out-played us, and if you do those little things, you usually have a better score."

Roenicke put it like this: "How many games do we have left? It's still too early. It's a great series. It's a huge confidence builder with our guys, going into it and playing like we did. It's still way too early, but I like how we're playing."

Fielder, a free-agent-to-be making the most of his contract year, has something to do with the Brewers' winning ways. He has eight home runs in the Brewers' last 10 games, and all but two of them have given the team a lead. The other two tied up games.

"When they make a mistake, I'm not missing it right now," Fielder said. "That's always good."

As usual, Fielder wasn't sure what pitch from Jake Westbrook (6-4) he hit. He just swung hard and hit it.

With his 19th home run, Fielder stayed one behind NL leader Matt Kemp of the Dodgers, who hit his 20th against Colorado on Sunday.

"I got to see Jose Bautista last year, and what Prince has done has been unbelievable," said Marcum, who joined the Brewers in a December trade with Toronto. "It reminds me of what Jose did last year. Everything he hits is on the barrel, and it's either in the seats or in the gap. He's carried us."

Starting pitching has played a role, too, and that was Marcum's department on Sunday. The right-hander limited St. Louis to three runs on five hits in seven innings for his 10th quality start in 14 games. Marcum (7-2) has pitched at least six innings in every start but his Brewers debut, and has pitched at least seven innings seven times.

He's contributed to the Brewers' run of starting success. Their starters are 19-5 with a 3.42 ERA in the team's last 34 games, with 23 quality starts. Overall this season, Brewers starters are 29-15 (.659), the best winning percentage in the Majors.

Marcum was not exactly knocked around while the Cardinals built a 3-0 lead. They scored twice in the fourth inning with just two hard-hit balls -- a lineout to right field by Albert Pujols and Skip Schumaker's sharp ground-ball single between first and second base. That hit scored both runs.

The Cardinals extended the lead to 3-0 on Colby Rasmus' double in the sixth inning, but the Brewers caught a break when Rasmus stumbled around second base. Yuniesky Betancourt tagged him out to help Marcum escape more damage, and the Brewers answered in the bottom of the inning.

"I feel like any time we can hold them to four runs or less, we've got a really good opportunity to win the game," Marcum said. "That's what I did today, and Prince and the guys came up with some big hits."

Rickie Weeks, Mark Kotsay, Ryan Braun and Fielder all scalded hits to start the inning against Westbrook. Kotsay's double put the Brewers on the board, Braun's single cut the deficit to 1 and Fielder's towering home run to the second deck in right field gave Milwaukee its first lead.

Marcum finished his outing with a 1-2-3 seventh inning, and Kameron Loe and John Axford handled the final two innings for the second consecutive day. Axford logged his 18th save with his 15th consecutive conversion, and received some help from center fielder Carlos Gomez, who made a leaping catch at the wall for the second out.

"I think there's something about him," Roenicke said of Fielder. "I think he's a big-time player, and that's what they do. There's not a lot of them. [Albert] Pujols is one. [Joey] Votto is one. [Lance] Berkman is one. There's a few others.

"When guys hit late home runs consistently, and not just home runs, but when you have good at-bats and drive the ball in key situations consistently, you're a big-time player."

Fielder has even impressed his most brutally honest teammate. Zack Greinke got a boost from Fielder on Saturday night when Fielder's second-inning homer cracked the ice against Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter.

"It's kind of weird, because he's been consistently putting up his numbers, nothing extremely hot. I figured that was the type of player he was," Greinke said. "If you're being consistent, and then you have hot streaks, too, that's pretty unheard of. That's what he's doing so far."

The Brewers will try to stay atop the division on a weeklong road trip to Chicago's Wrigley Field and Boston's Fenway Park.

"Whenever you win, at least for me, you always play a lot better," Fielder said. "It's a lot of fun right now."

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