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MIL@CHC: Gomez brings home a run on a squeeze play

CHICAGO -- Minus the marathon bottom of the ninth inning, the Brewers manufactured just the sort of small-ball win on Monday that manager Ron Roenicke would like to see more of now that Prince Fielder is swinging for the fences in Detroit.

Milwaukee scored more than half its runs on sacrifice flies and squeeze bunts, then nearly let a four-run lead slip away. Closer John Axford did what two relievers before him could not, working around a pair of errors and some early-season butterflies to close out a 7-5 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

The game ended with the bases full of Cubs and the winning run at first base. Axford set up budding Cubs star Starlin Castro with a pair of sliders, then put him away with a fastball for a called strike three. Axford converted his 44th consecutive regular-season save, the longest active streak in the Majors.

"They seem to get very interesting when I'm out there at times," he said.

The earlier innings were just as interesting, for reasons much more encouraging for a Brewers manager who wants to win with pitching and a more balanced, less home run-reliant offense.

Starter Shaun Marcum worked six quality innings for a successful return to the victory column. He settled in after allowing a pair of early home runs and limited the Cubs to three runs on five hits over six innings, a quality debut considering his Spring Training was abbreviated by a stiff shoulder.

Marcum also contributed with the bat, executing a beautiful suicide squeeze bunt for a go-ahead run in the fourth inning. It was that kind of night for the Brewers, who squeezed, sacrificed and scampered their way to a season-high seven runs.

Former Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez put his new team on the board with a sacrifice fly in the first inning and added a two-out RBI double in the seventh. Marcum's bunt along the first-base line in the fourth snapped a 2-2 tie. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy lifted a sacrifice fly for insurance in the sixth. Pinch-hitter Carlos Gomez dropped a perfect safety squeeze bunt in the eighth.

The Brewers also showed some brawn. Rickie Weeks hit a laser beam home run in the third inning, his second homer this season. Mat Gamel delivered a tiebreaking triple in the sixth for his first RBI of the season.

Might the Brewers' offense be different this season? Absolutely, Marcum said.

"Not having Prince in there to hit 40 homers and drive in 120, it's definitely a different offense," Marcum said. "It might take a little bit of time to figure out our identity, but I think Aramis is going to have a big year hitting behind [Ryan Braun], and I think Corey [Hart] is going to have a big year as well. We're going to find a way to score runs."

Roenicke has been a vocal proponent of small ball since the Brewers hired him two Octobers ago, but the Brewers remained mostly a power-hitting team with Braun and Fielder in the middle of the order in 2011.

"To sit back and bash the ball and try to win games, I know some teams do it," Roenicke said. "But I don't know if we can consistently do that. We'll hit our home runs, but I've talked to our guys about getting on base and make sure we hit some two- and three-run homers."

The Brewers left old friend Dale Sveum sitting on one managerial win. The new Cubs skipper was the Brewers' hitting coach last season, and their third base and bench coach before that.

He knows returning Milwaukee hitters as well as anyone, and also knows that Roenicke is not afraid to put on the squeeze.

"That doesn't surprise you," Sveum said. "It's just a matter of when you're going to pitch out, which pitch. I was there, I know they do that. Their pitchers really handle the bats -- every one of their pitchers can handle the bats well, especially in that situation."

Marcum also helped himself with his arm, though he had some trouble in the early innings. With the wind whipping across the outfield, from left to right, Marcum surrendered a first inning home run to Darwin Barney that stayed below the wind, and a second inning blast to Bryan LaHair that sailed with the wind out of Wrigley Field, onto Sheffield Ave.

The third Cubs run off Marcum should have come with an asterisk. He'd retired seven consecutive batters since an Alex Gonzalez error in the second inning when Geovany Soto led off the fifth with a relatively routine fly ball to center field. Nyjer Morgan never saw it, and splayed both arms out wide before the baseball dropped over his head for a triple.

Marcum struck out Marlon Byrd, but pinch-hitter Blake DeWitt lifted a sacrifice fly that tied the game at 3. The Brewers reclaimed the lead with two runs in the next half-inning.

"I was really happy with the way Marcum threw the ball," Roenicke said. "The nice thing about him is his pitch count allows him to get deeper in games than most guys."

Marcum struck out six batters without a walk. He threw 89 pitches.

Morgan, Braun and Gonzalez each contributed two hits for the Brewers, with Braun going 2-for-4 with a walk, a run scored and his first stolen base. Since his 0-for-5 on Opening Day, Braun is 6-for-11 with three doubles and a home run.

Right-handed starter Chris Volstad took a no-decision in his Cubs debut after allowing three runs on five hits in five innings. Reliever Shawn Camp was saddled with the loss. Comments