CHICAGO -- The Brewers and Cubs played a nail-biter on Monday, no matter what the final score had to say.
Officially, the Brewers won, 15-4, at Wrigley Field, wildly inflated by Milwaukee's nine-run ninth inning in which the Brewers hit back-to-back-to-back home runs for the first time in more than five years and the Cubs pitched a position player for the first time in more than a decade.
It made you wonder: Has ever a final score revealed less about a baseball game?
"I don't think so. We were just talking about that," said Ryan Braun after emerging from the training room.
The eight innings provided plenty to talk about, but the ninth stole the show. The Brewers saw 39 pitches and scored seven runs before they made an out. Braun broke things open with a three-run home run, then piled on with an RBI single later in the inning. Aramis Ramirez continued to torment his former employers by hitting his second home run of the night. Corey Hart made it three consecutive homers, the Brewers' first trio since they led off a game against the Reds with back-to-back-to-back blasts in September 2007.
Brewers closer John Axford had long since taken a seat on the bullpen bench by then, though he began the ninth warming up to preserve a 6-4 lead after three intense innings of relief from Kameron Loe, Francisco Rodriguez and Jim Henderson.
In the seventh and eighth innings, the Cubs had the go-ahead runner on base and would have at least tied the game if not for highlight-reel defensive plays by first baseman Hart and right fielder Norichika Aoki. In the eighth, the Cubs brought the tying runner to the plate again.
In the ninth, they needed two touchdowns.
"That was a tight game the whole way, and what an explosion," Loe said. "I wish I was out there [in the dugout] to watch it, because it was fun watching it in here."
When manager Ron Roenicke finally met reporters in his office, after a three-hour, 48-minute series opener, he was surprised so many had stuck around.
"It was a good ballgame for a while," he said.
The teams jockeyed through the first eight innings, with the Brewers going ahead on Ramirez's first-inning double and the Cubs answering with three unearned runs in the third against Milwaukee starter -- and eventual winning pitcher -- Marco Estrada after an error on second baseman Rickie Weeks.
Estrada stranded the bases full of Cubs in that inning and his hitters rewarded him in the fifth by mounting their own three-run rally. Weeks started things with a single, Braun made it a one-run game with a double and Ramirez hit the very next pitch for a home run to left-center field and a 4-3 Brewers lead.
The Brewers would never trail again, though the Cubs made it interesting.
It was 5-3 by the sixth, when the Cubs mounted a serious threat against Loe, forced into duty against a left-handed-heavy Cubs lineup because the Brewers had opted to pinch-hit for Estrada in the top of the inning. Loe surrendered a leadoff home run to Brett Jackson and faced runners at second and third with nobody out, then the bases loaded with two outs.
He authored another escape with help from Hart, who made a diving stop to prevent an Alfonso Soriano grounder from reaching the outfield, and shoveled the baseball to Loe to preserve a one-run lead.
In the seventh, an error by shortstop Jean Segura put Rodriguez in a similar pickle, with runners at first and second base in a 5-4 game. Aoki made another inning-ending, run-saving play, robbing Luis Valbuena of a hit with a tumbling catch.
Henderson had to work around a leadoff walk in the eighth, but retired the heart of the Cubs' batting order to preserve the narrow lead.
That left Axford for the ninth. Instead, Milwaukee's offense erupted.
Cubs reliever Alex Hinshaw surrendered all three of the Brewers' ninth-inning home runs, and was charged with five runs in all without recording an out. Lendy Castillo was charged with four more runs, one of which scored after Joe Mather, an outfielder, took over.
"I never want to have to go out there and throw, and especially in the circumstance that we did," Mather said.
Mather was the first Cubs position player to pitch since Gary Gaetti in 1999. It was the second mention of Gaetti in that inning -- when Ramirez hit his second home run, he tied Gaetti for seventh on baseball's all-time list of home runs as a third baseman, with 332.
Ramirez spent his first 14 seasons with the Cubs and Pirates and is making the most of Milwaukee's run of 13 consecutive games against those teams. Including his three hits and four RBIs on Monday, Ramirez has seven extra-base hits, eight runs scored and nine RBIs in the first seven games of this stretch.
Braun was 4-for-6 with three runs scored and five RBIs. Carlos Gomez was 4-for-5 with three runs scored and what for a few moments was a key home run in the eighth.Brewers pitchers struck out 15 Cubs and have reached double digits in seven straight games, the longest such streak since 1900, according to Elias. Four of those games have been against the Cubs.
Ramirez realizes these are difficult days at Wrigley Field.
"They just have to understand that this is a process, and the new front office came in with a plan and they're going to execute it," Ramirez said. "It's going to be painful, because right now they don't have a good product on the field. But I'm pretty sure they're smart people, they have a good game plan."