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MIL@STL: Aramis racks up three hits vs. Cards

ST. LOUIS -- When Mike Fiers is delivering run-scoring hits, you know the Brewers are running hot.

Fiers is a rookie right-hander so futile with the bat that catcher Jonathan Lucroy suggested a few weeks ago -- seriously -- that he try bunting instead. It worked that day, but Fiers was 1-for-26 with 15 strikeouts before he finally swung and connected on Saturday night.

Fiers' RBI single in a two-run second inning was a key early hit for the Brewers, and Aramis Ramirez's ninth-inning home run came late in a 6-3 win over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. It was the 15th victory in 19 games for the Brewers, who pulled within five games of the Cardinals for the National League's second Wild Card berth.

All of a sudden, everything is going right for a team that finds itself one game under .500 for the first time since April 30, when Fiers was still pitching at Triple-A Nashville. They have not been a .500 team since April 24.

"I think it's big because we've been under for so long," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "We've talked about it. We talk about if we get back to .500 and we stay hot, this could be very interesting."

Can his team make up five games with only 23 to go, and the Dodgers and Pirates lurking in the way?

"Sure we can," Roenicke said. "What we talk about is how many teams are in front of us. That makes it way more challenging than if there's just one team. But, sure we can. Look at what the Cardinals did last year. Absolutely, we can."

Fiers has believed that for a while.

"I always thought we were still in it, no matter how far we were back," he said. "I just thought with the hitting and pitching combined, and the defense we play, it was definitely a team that deserved to be in the playoffs. We just needed to put it together."

Finally, they have. Fiers allowed only one run in five hard-fought innings, four relievers held the lead, Ramirez and Rickie Weeks homered and the Brewers won despite leaving a slew of runs on the basepaths. They finished 4-for-15 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 men on base.

Three times the Brewers left the bases loaded, including in the seventh inning after Weeks led off with his 17th home run to give them a 4-1 lead. The Brewers proceeded to load the bases with nobody out against Cardinals reliever Trevor Rosenthal, who struck out Lucroy and Carlos Gomez and retired Jeff Bianchi on a rally-killing groundout.

The other bases-loaded chances came at the end of a two-run second inning, when Weeks grounded out to strand three runners, and in the third, when the Brewers scored one run and should have had more. Bianchi ended that inning with a double-play groundout, but replays showed he was easily safe while a would-be run crossed the plate.

"If we were just OK, we could have scored, probably, three more [runs]," Roenicke said. "If we were good, it could have been a lot more than that."

For the second straight night, the Cardinals were saying the same thing. Catcher Yadier Molina was the chief culprit, flying out to center field with two runners on base in the third inning and again with the bases loaded in the fifth. Both chances came against Fiers.

In the seventh, the Cardinals cut the deficit to 4-2, but had a man at third with one out and could not score him. In the eighth, they cut the deficit to 4-3, but had the tying runner at second base with one out and came up empty again.

Brewers relievers Livan Hernandez, Francisco Rodriguez, Jim Henderson and John Axford (27th save) combined to hold the lead.

"[St. Louis] is a very good offensive team, I don't need to say that," Roenicke said. "It's the best in our league. And for our pitchers to be able to keep them down in the run total, that's really good. We've been doing that for a while. That's why we're winning all these games right now."

Ramirez agreed.

"Pitching. That's how you win games," he said. "Early in the season, we let a lot of games get away late in the game, and right now we're winning those ballgames. That's the difference."

Fiers narrowly logged the five innings he needed to qualify for his ninth win. The Cardinals worked the righty for 94 pitches, 62 strikes, but turned five hits and three walks into only one run. Fiers struck out five.

His run-scoring hit came against St. Louis starter Jake Westbrook, who took the loss after allowing three runs and seven hits in five innings.

"They're playing very well," Westbrook said. "They came in pretty hot and they kept that going. They came up with some big hits and took it to us the first couple games."

With apologies to Fiers, who called his own run-scoring hit, "huge for us," Ramirez was Milwaukee's offensive MVP. He tweaked his lower back on Wednesday in Miami and was forced to sit out Thursday and Friday, then returned Saturday with three hits, two walks and a batting average up to .300.

Ramirez went into Roenicke's office on Saturday afternoon and announced he was ready to return.

"He pretty much told me he was playing," Roenicke said.

"I don't really like to be babysit," Ramirez said. "I've been around long enough to know when I can play, when I can't. As soon as I walked in here today I went to his office and told him I was good to go."

Asked whether he's back to 100 percent, Ramirez said, "Nobody is. It's September. ... We've only got 20-plus games and it's going to take a lot for me to leave the lineup."