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ATL@MIL: Brewers send 13 to plate, drive in eight

MILWAUKEE -- The National League Wild Card race is getting, well, wild.

A month ago, the prospect of postseason baseball at Miller Park was utterly unthinkable. Now it's at least possible, thanks to a remarkable late-season run for the Brewers that continued with a three-game sweep of the Braves, capped Wednesday by an eight-run fifth inning and an 8-2 win.

For the first time since they opened an early-April series in Atlanta at 4-3, the Brewers are over .500 at 72-71.

And that's just the start.

They have won 17 of their last 19 home games, including nine in a row, and 18 of 23 games overall. The Brewers have played their way into postseason contention, one of five teams within three games of the National League's second Wild Card.

"You add that one extra spot and everybody seems like they're in it now," said fill-in first baseman Travis Ishikawa, whose three-run double represented the dagger on Wednesday night. "We're so close, yet there are, what, three teams in front of us? We've still got a long way to go."

That Milwaukee is even within striking distance is astonishing. On Aug. 19, the start of this 23-game surge, the Brewers were at their low point -- 12 games under .500 and 12 1/2 games out of the second Wild Card slot.

Twenty-three games later, the Brewers are one game over .500 and only three games back.

"We're all pretty excited in here," said Wednesday's winning pitcher, Yovani Gallardo.

Did anyone see this coming?

"Honestly, it didn't look good," Ishikawa said. "I felt like we had dug a hole pretty deep."

But they have climbed out of that hole with the league's best offense and a pitching staff that has found its form of late. Gallardo has led the way, going 7-0 with a 2.98 ERA in nine starts since the Brewers traded Zack Greinke, including a seven-inning, two-run gem against the Braves on Wednesday night.

Gallardo allowed only four hits in his Major League-best 24th quality start. The Brewers improved to 20-10 when he takes the mound.

"We know we have to keep it up," Gallardo said. "We're scoring runs, and the pitching is doing what it's supposed to do. That's a tough team on the other side, and being able to win all three games [against the Braves] is huge."

It's a run the likes of which propelled them to the NL Central crown in 2011, when the Brewers won 27 of 32 games from July 26-Aug. 28. The difference is that last year's Brewers were already in first place when they got hot and pulled away from the rest of the division. This year's Brewers were left for dead.

Now Miller Park is alive again. A crowd of 37,847 came to bid retiring Braves star Chipper Jones farewell on Wednesday and to support a home team on a hot streak.

They stirred in the bottom of the fifth inning, when Ishikawa was one of 13 men to step to the plate for Milwaukee and one of seven to reach safely in one stretch. Rickie Weeks put the Brewers on the board and provided a lead with one swing, a three-run home run that bounced off the top of the right-field wall and into the Braves' bullpen. Jonathan Lucroy made it 4-2 with an RBI single, and, two batters later, Ishikawa blew the game open with his bases-clearing double for a 7-2 lead. Gallardo added an RBI double two batters after that.

All eight runs, six earned, were charged to Braves starter Paul Maholm. The former Pirates and Cubs left-hander fell to 3-11 against Milwaukee in his career.

"I can't say I like this place," Maholm said. "I'm kind of glad to be out of here and not coming back this year."

The Brewers lead the NL in runs scored, with 686.

"I've been saying this entire season that you blink and we've got five runs in an inning," Ishikawa said. "I'm not used to seeing that a ton, and it's fun to watch this offense. It's fun to be a part of it, too, but even from the bench it's fun to see how quickly our entire offense can put runs on the board."

Gallardo improved to 4-1 with a 2.07 ERA in seven career starts against the Braves. He pitched at least seven innings for the first time in September but the seventh time in his last nine starts.

On Wednesday, he got better as the game progressed. The Braves' big blow came in the first inning from Jason Heyward, who was hacking on 3-0 and hit a home run to right field. The Braves' only other run scored in the fourth inning on a double-play groundout.

The Heyward homer was not only the Braves' only RBI in the series, it was their only extra-base hit. Their other 19 hits were singles.

The Brewers outscored the Braves in the series, 17-3.

"As bad as we were earlier in the year, we just found a way to play the kind of ball we knew we were capable of in the spring," Ishikawa said. "That's just the way this game is. You never know what can happen."

They are saying the same thing in Philadelphia, where the Phillies have won seven in a row to pull even with the Brewers, three games out of a Wild Card spot.

"You never know when you're going to see something you've never seen before," Ishikawa said, "and hopefully this is going to be something I can add to my list."

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