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HOU@MIL: Axford earns save, locks down Brewers' win

MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers didn't expect John Axford to pitch on the one-year anniversary of the start of his saves streak. Not on a night Randy Wolf authored a quality start and Milwaukee's hitters belted four home runs. Not after the Brewers built a pair of five-run leads.

But there was Axford in the ninth, called upon to close Tuesday's 9-6 win over the Astros at Miller Park. With his 47th consecutive regular-season save, Axford tied Brad Lidge for the fourth-longest streak in the history of the stat. It seems there's no such thing as a runaway win for these Brewers.

"It keeps everyone awake and alive," Axford said.

Axford's streak began last April 24, when he saved a Wolf win over the Astros. It continued Tuesday night, when he saved a Wolf win over the Astros.

"And what a different-looking guy, wasn't he?" said Wolf, who'd seen highlights of the streak-starter on television.

Axford had much shorter hair then. Now his long hair falls out of his cap, a look he described to his thousands of Twitter followers as "Evil Magician."

"He goes from a Dave Matthews concert to a Grateful Dead concert," Wolf said.

Whatever the look, Axford gets the job done. He shut down a feisty Astros club that scored a run apiece in the sixth and seventh innings and three in the eighth to keep things close, forcing Brewers manager Ron Roenicke to use the late-inning relievers he'd hoped to give the night off.

Francisco Rodriguez recorded the final out of the eighth, and Axford handled the ninth as the Brewers beat the Astros for the 11th straight game. It is the fourth-longest winning streak in Brewers history against a single opponent.

Milwaukee had 17-game and 13-game streaks against the Pirates, both in the past three seasons, and won 12 straight against the Marlins from April 1998-May 1999.

"We're in every game," Astros outfielder Jordan Schafer said. "It's aggravating; we're in every game and we're not finding a way to win. It's beyond aggravating."

The Brewers hit too many homers for the Astros to keep up. Travis Ishikawa hit a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, and Corey Hart did the same in the sixth. Rickie Weeks added a three-run blast in the Brewers' big sixth inning that loomed very large later on, and Carlos Gomez hit a pinch-hit homer in the eighth for insurance.

Ishikawa started in place of regular first baseman Mat Gamel -- whose shoulder was sore from a home-plate collision Monday night -- and homered off Astros starter Bud Norris (1-1) to give the Brewers a 2-1 lead. After the Astros tied the game in the top of the sixth, Hart made it 4-2 with his team-best fifth home run.

Weeks, who was hit by a very suspicious pitch in the first inning, added insurance with his first home run since April 9. Since that blast at Wrigley Field, Weeks had been stuck in a 7-for-52 (.135) slump.

Alex Gonzalez had three hits, two runs scored and an RBI, and slumping center fielder Nyjer Morgan, who entered the day batting .119, came through with his first three-hit game of the season. The Brewers took a 7-2 lead into the seventh inning, and an 8-3 lead into the eighth.

The Astros didn't go quietly, rallying for three runs in the eighth against Kameron Loe and Manny Parra. The Brewers have had big-time trouble with their middle relief so far this season.

"I would like somebody down there to be able to come in there and put together some good outings," Roenicke said, "and when we get a lead, to be able to stop it and put some zeroes up so we don't always have to go to Frankie and Ax."

Axford has four saves this season, on top of the 43 in a row he notched to finish last season. Yes, he blew a save in the National League Division Series, but for record-keeping purposes that does not count.

"It's not really my doing, it's the eight innings before that. I just hope that I can lock it down," Axford said. "Forty-seven saves means 47 wins. That's the big part."

Wolf (1-2) did his part by pitching six deliberate innings and limiting Houston to two runs on four hits. He surrendered an opposite-field homer to 5-foot-5 second baseman Jose Altuve in the second inning and back-to-back hits to start the sixth, when the Astros tied the game at 2 on Carlos Lee's double past a diving Ryan Braun.

Wolf stranded Astros runners at second and third in the sixth before the Brewers broke the game open.

"I'm not there yet," Wolf said. "It's just constant adjustments now, getting where I need to be. I felt the life on my fastball was back today. My location was better on my fastball, but I think a few of my offspeed pitches were inconsistent."

Norris' blow-up came suddenly. He'd allowed only two hits through four scoreless innings before Ishikawa put the Brewers on the board in the fifth. Within the span of five outs in the fifth and sixth, Norris surrendered all seven earned runs, seven of his nine hits and both of his walks.

"Norris usually pitches very well against us, and for five innings, he was really tough," Wolf said. "That bottom of the sixth was really big for us, to get those five runs.

"This team right here, the Astros, are going to be underestimated, and they shouldn't be. They really give quality at-bats. They don't give away at-bats. They put good swings on tough pitches. I think as the season goes on, they're going to gain a lot of respect, as far as their offense."

The Brewers expect their offense to be good, too, after a slow start.

"I think it was only a matter of time," Wolf said.

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