MILWAUKEE -- It's been a good week for long-suffering Brewers starters. First Mark Rogers found his way into the win column, then Marco Estrada joined him.
Estrada struck out nine batters in six scoreless innings of Tuesday's 5-2 win over the Cubs, a grinder of a game that gave Estrada his first 2012 victory, re-established John Axford as Milwaukee's closer and positioned the Brewers to sweep the three-game series with another win on Wednesday afternoon.
"It felt like it's my first Major League win," Estrada said. "It feels amazing. I'm extremely happy right now, I'm sure the guys are happy for me, and I'm happy for them for playing their butts off. We've been battling all year, and we have to keep doing this."
Estrada needed 16 starts to log his first 2012 victory, despite a respectable 4.23 ERA. He hopes to spend the final five to six weeks of the season talking about something other than a winless streak.
Not that he blamed anyone for asking about it.
"Geez, it's been five months," Estrada said.
Neither club did much at the plate, combining for only four hits through the first seven innings and seven hits overall, in a game that stretched three hours and seven minutes because the Cubs spent the night handing out free passes. The Brewers had 12 batters reach safely -- but only three hits.
The Cubs helped with six walks and three hit batsmen. Five of those runners scored all of the Brewers' runs.
"We had a lot of free bases today," said Brewers first baseman Corey Hart, who drove in the game's first run and scored another. "These are games that drag on, but they're fun to win."
They are not fun to lose.
"When you walk more than the other team, you're going to lose 70 percent of the time," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "You've got to throw strikes to pitch in the big leagues. We have to do a better job of that."
Including this series win against the Cubs, the Brewers are 9-1-2 over their last 12 home series.
Chicago left-hander Chris Rusin began his Major League career by retiring the first nine batters he faced, but put himself in a jam in the fourth inning by hitting two batters and walking another to load the bases for Hart. Hart hit a grounder that struck Rusin on the left foot and deflected toward third base for a run-scoring infield single.
Rusin kept the Cubs' deficit at 1-0 by inducing a Jonathan Lucroy double play to end that inning, but Lucroy would get another chance in the sixth against wild reliever Alberto Cabrera. The right-hander walked the bases loaded for Lucroy, then threw an 0-2 pitch behind Lucroy's back for a run-scoring wild pitch.
The next pitch found the strike zone and Lucroy didn't miss it, pulling a double into the left-field corner for two more runs and a 4-0 Brewers lead. Two hours and 10 minutes into the game, the Brewers had their first hit that left the infield.
Lucroy, who homered twice in Monday's opener against the Cubs, already has six RBIs in the series.
"That first guy [Rusin] really kind of mystified us a little bit," Lucroy said. "I guess when you've got a really good changeup like that, you're able to keep a lot of guys off balance. He would drop a changeup on you that was painted, a borderline [strike], and would get you to roll it over. I did that twice -- once in a big situation. He executed. That guy did a nice job for his debut, and I'm sure we'll be facing him down the road again. I can't wait."
Carlos Gomez added a run in the eighth inning that gave the Brewers some breathing room in the ninth, when the Cubs plated a pair of runs against Manny Parra and Jim Henderson, who made way for John Axford's return to the closer's role. Axford recorded the game's final out for his 19th save.
Axford approached manager Ron Roenicke last week and asked for his old job back.
"Based on some of the chaos and instability that's happening down there, I wanted to make sure I took a leadership role and accept that some of the chaos and instability was because of me in the first place," Axford said. "I wanted to re-establish [the job] and make sure that things were going to be straight again."
The Brewers would love for Axford to finish the season strong and eliminate any doubt about the closer's role heading into 2013. Likewise, Estrada will spend his remaining starts trying to cement his spot in next season's rotation.
"I'm just really happy the Brewers keep giving me the opportunity to start here," Estrada said. "It's what I want to keep doing, and I have to go out and try as hard as I can every time, because next year, who knows what's going to happen?"