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NLCS Gm1: Prince hits a go-ahead two-run homer

MILWAUKEE -- Considering it was the franchise's first League Championship Series game since 1982, the Brewers picked the ideal day to channel their inner Harvey's Wallbangers.

Harvey Kuenn's '82 club went all the way to Game 7 of the World Series by bashing the baseball, but it never hit three home runs in a postseason game. That's precisely what the current crop of Brewers did for a come-from-behind 9-6 win over the Cardinals in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series on Sunday.

It was an opener owned by the offenses. If these division rivals trudged any of their regular-season tension into October, they released it by swinging the bats.

"Whenever we do that, it's awesome, because it's real quick," said Milwaukee first baseman Prince Fielder, who provided a go-ahead two-run homer. "It's just a good feeling. We were down there for a while, and that obviously doesn't feel good."

The bad feeling did not last long.

Trailing, 5-2, after the Cards scored in the top of the decisive fifth inning, Corey Hart singled off St. Louis starter Jaime Garcia, and the Brewers were off. Jerry Hairston doubled, and so did Ryan Braun, for two of Braun's four RBIs. Fielder hit the next pitch for a laser beam of a homer, and two batters after that, Yuniesky Betancourt connected against reliever Octavio Dotel for another two-run home run.

In the span of 25 pitches, Milwaukee had transformed a three-run deficit into a three-run lead without making an out, and Miller Park had transformed from Wisconsin's largest sitting room back into baseball's best home-field advantage.

"I don't even know if I heard the ball come off Prince's bat," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "I knew it was a good swing and came off nice, but you can't hear the ball, the sound of it, because of all the people yelling. I wasn't sure what was going to happen there until I saw the ball fly."

That happened a lot on Sunday, as the teams combined for four home runs, including David Freese's towering three-run homer off starter Zack Greinke in the fourth inning that silenced a sellout crowd of 43,613 and put Milwaukee in a 4-2 hole.

Even Sunday's ceremonial first pitch fit the bill. It was delivered by former center fielder Gorman Thomas, the biggest hitter of all on the Brewers' 1982 club, a player who never batted better than .261 but twice led the American League in homers.

By the time the Cardinals finally escaped the fifth inning, the Brewers had set franchise postseason records with three home runs -- Braun hit a two-run homer in the first inning before Fielder and Betancourt did so in the fifth -- and five doubles. The six-run flurry matched Milwaukee's seventh inning in Game 4 of the '82 World Series for the biggest outburst in the club's postseason history.

The opponent then? St. Louis. Those teams combined to score 72 runs in a Series that went to the Redbirds in a deciding Game 7.

Might this showdown be just as offensive?

"If we have our bats going and they have their bats going, it's going to be a lot of runs," Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols said. "But you also have some good pitchers in this series and great bullpens. We'll see at the end of the day what the scoreboard says."

The team that has won Game 1 of the NLCS has advanced to the World Series in 16 of the past 19 years.

The win was the Brewers' 61st this season at Miller Park, regular season and postseason. They moved to 17-0 when Greinke takes the mound and 4-0 since the start of the playoffs.

"It's one of those things you don't question," Braun said, speaking specifically about Greinke's home success. "You just accept it and hope that it continues."

Before giving Greinke the credit, consider he has allowed 10 runs and 16 hits over 11 innings of his two playoff starts, including six runs on eight hits in six-plus innings on Sunday. The Brewers won both games, thanks to a five-run sixth inning in Game 2 of the NL Division Series against the D-backs, then a six-run fifth inning on Sunday.

"It seems like right now, every time it comes to the middle of the lineup, there's an opportunity," Greinke said, referring to Braun and Fielder. "They're really good. Maybe, probably the best three-four in baseball right now."

Lost in the hubbub of Greinke's mild pre-NLCS shot at the opponent's best pitcher, Chris Carpenter, was the fact that he called the Cardinals the league's best lineup. That group wasted no time at all proving Greinke's point.

A seven-pitch walk and two opposite-field singles -- one a Pujols bloop and the other Matt Holliday's two-out run-scoring grounder -- gave the Redbirds a first-inning lead. After Braun's homer put Milwaukee ahead, St. Louis turned a single and a walk into more runs in the fourth inning. Freese hit a fly ball that carried into the Cards' bullpen in right-center to make it 4-2.

Freese is a right-handed hitter, and they have been giving Greinke particular trouble. In 364 regular-season plate appearances against righties, Greinke surrendered five home runs. Freese's was the fourth homer in the 26th plate appearance against Greinke by a right-handed hitter this postseason.

The Cardinals extended their advantage to 5-2 before the Brewers answered in the decisive fifth. Braun started the scoring when he dropped a ground-rule double into the right-field corner for two runs. Fielder pounced on Garcia's next pitch, a down-the-middle fastball at 87 mph, for his second postseason homer. Fielder had never homered in 24 plate appearances against Garcia, including his first two on Sunday.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Fielder's home run ball traveled at a speed of 119.2 mph off his bat, the highest speed for any home run hit in 2011.

"That was one of the hardest-hit balls I've ever seen," Braun said.

Enter Dotel, whose error on Rickie Weeks' comebacker set up Betancourt for another two-run homer.

Greinke was out of the game after allowing a single to start the seventh, and Milwaukee's shutdown bullpen finished the job. Takashi Saito, Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford pitched an inning apiece, with Axford picking up his second postseason save.

Saito engineered the game's crucial escape, taking over after Brewers-killer Rafael Furcal led off the seventh inning with a hit and took third on a hit-and-run single that would have been right to Betancourt at shortstop had he not moved to cover second base.

The Cardinals cut the deficit to two runs when Saito induced a Pujols double play, a trade the Brewers made gladly, considering Pujols represented the tying run. Saito retired Lance Berkman on a popup to end the inning.

"It's just the first game," Braun said. "You try to not get overly excited. We saw that in the first round. We won the first two games, we're feeling great about ourselves and almost ended up losing the series. It's a great start for us. We played a great game and responded well to a couple of momentum shifts." Comments