MILWAUKEE -- John Axford has converted 31 consecutive saves, but none likely was as gut-wrenching as his outing Saturday against the Pirates.
Axford gave up a triple to Xavier Paul to lead off the ninth, but he managed to make key pitches and struck out Neil Walker to end the game, preserving the Brewers' 1-0 victory.
"Everyone thinks I try to make it exciting for a purpose, so I did it on purpose there, too, I guess," Axford said, tongue planted firmly in cheek.
After Paul's triple to center field, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke brought the infield in, and Axford got Andrew McCutchen and Matt Diaz to each ground out without the runner attempting to score. Both swung on the first pitch.
"It happened so quickly -- it was two pitches, two outs, just like that," Axford said.
Instead of having the Brewers on the ropes, the Pirates now were down to their last out.
"The pressure definitely switched pretty quick," Axford said.
Garrett Jones then walked in an eight-pitch at-bat, but Walker struck out to end the game, giving Axford his 34th save in 36 chances this season.
The Brewers improved to 7-0 against Pittsburgh this year and 35-3 against the Pirates at Miller Park since 2007. Overall, Milwaukee is 43-11 against Pittsburgh since 2008.
"It's something we can use to our advantage, because they know it's been a tough go here," Axford said. "Today was obviously a show of that. A 1-0 ballgame. They had a few opportunities."
The other outstanding pitching performance by the Brewers came from Marco Estrada (3-7), a fill-in starter for the injured Chris Narveson. Estrada gave up only one hit without a walk while striking out five batters in his first start since May 4.
"It was a good outing, but I wanted to go deeper," Estrada said. "I was trying to give the guys at least six or seven innings. Unfortunately it was only five, but it kept us in the game. That's all that matters."
The right-hander only allowed a third-inning single to Ronny Cedeno.
"It's an amazing feeling, it's amazing just to win," Estrada said. "I'm happy to have helped a little bit."
Roenicke said it's likely that Estrada will make two more starts before Narveson rejoins the rotation, a group that has a combined 53-30 record.
"It's tough to compare to all these guys," Estrada said. "We've got a really good pitching staff. I'm just trying to do my part right now."
After Estrada exited, Takashi Saito, LaTroy Hawkins and Francisco Rodriguez each worked a scoreless inning before Axford entered and allowed the triple to Paul.
The Brewers scored their only run off Pittsburgh starter Kevin Correia (12-11) in the second when Yuniesky Betancourt hit an 0-2 pitch into the left-field bleachers for his ninth home run of the year. After a slow start, the Brewers shortstop has batted .337 since June 20.
"It's not a normal game here," Correia said. "Usually there's a lot of offense in this park. This is one of those odd games. We didn't have a lot of opportunities. We obviously had a really good one at the end and couldn't push that run across or two that we needed."
Betancourt, using Estrada as a translator, said he's felt better at the plate since the All-Star break.
"He feels great now and he's really happy that he's contributing to all of this," Estrada said while translating Betancourt's words from Spanish.
Roenicke said Betancourt also is playing well defensively at shortstop.
"The confidence is there," Roenicke said. "Early in the season, he was pressing a little. He's got it working. And he's looking good at shortstop, too. His whole game is really good right now."
With Brewers starters going deep into games the past five weeks, Estrada had only pitched in three of the team's last 17 games. And when he has pitched, he's struggled, giving up at least one run in each of those three games.
"He did so well earlier in the season filling in for Zack [Greinke]," Roenicke said. "It's a real good choice for us. I didn't expect him to give up [only] one hit today. It was another great performance for him."
He had no problems with the Pirates, throwing first-pitch strikes to 11 of the 16 batters he faced. Pittsburgh has lost 15 of 18 games to fall out of the National League Central race.
Brewers hitters struggled against the Pirates, though, going 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. Milwaukee loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh, but reliever Chris Resop struck out Casey McGehee to end the inning.
"Going into the ninth inning with just a one-run lead -- not even the ninth, seventh, eighth, ninth -- way different than when you have two runs up," Roenicke said. "Then you don't have to worry about if a guy gets on they can't sacrifice him over. They probably won't have a stolen base if a guy gets on and they're two runs down.
"With one run down, all that stuff can happen, so it's huge to get another run," he said. "Every time we don't get a run when we have an opportunity with a runner in scoring position, you're like, 'Hey, we're missing out here.'"
Joe DiGiovanni is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.