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07/25/08 1:10 AM ET

Braun keeps Brewers' streak alive

Young slugger helps take teammate Hart off the hook

ST. LOUIS -- Ryan Braun hit the go-ahead home run on Thursday night, but Corey Hart might have been the happiest man in the ballpark.

Braun's one-out, two-run homer in the ninth inning gave the Brewers a 4-3 win over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. It finished a four-game sweep of St. Louis, turned a very good Brewers road trip into a great one and spared Hart from one of the more frustrating days of his Major League career.

"If you wouldn't have hit that ball out," Hart told Braun in the clubhouse a few minutes later, "I don't know what I would have done. They might have found me in a ditch somewhere."

Hart drove in a run with a fifth-inning groundout, but he went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. On top of that, he committed a fielding error that gave the Cardinals an unearned run in the fourth inning.

It stood as the decisive run until Braun batted with one out and a man on base in the ninth and connected off Cards closer Ryan Franklin (3-4) for a go-ahead homer that capped the Brewers' perfect 7-0 road trip to start the second half and extended the team's winning streak to eight games.

Milwaukee improved to a Major League-best 22-10 in one-run games, including two one-run wins in a four-game sweep of St. Louis. From the seventh inning on in the four games, the Brewers outscored the Cardinals, 11-1, outhit them, 21-7, and hit three home runs to St. Louis' zero.

"We're playing great team baseball," said Brewers starter Ben Sheets, who worked seven quality innings and settled for a no-decision. "We're having fun. We're playing like we thought we could. I said at the All-Star break that I didn't think we were hot yet. I think we're hot now."

It had been Brewers third baseman Bill Hall who hit go-ahead home runs in the final inning of the first two games of the series. Braun apparently had a hunch that Hall would get an opportunity again on Thursday, because when Braun stepped into the on-deck circle in the ninth inning on Thursday, he asked Hall if he had one more in him.

"I didn't need it," Hall said with a smile.

Braun followed a single by J.J. Hardy with his team-best 26th home run, a shot that traveled 407 feet but narrowly cleared the left-center-field wall. Braun finished with four hits for the second straight night and extended to 20 the Brewers' streak of games with at least one homer, a new franchise record.

More importantly, he helped the Brewers keep pace with the National League Central-leading Cubs, who also won on Thursday. After being swept in four games by the Brewers, the Cardinals fell three games behind Chicago and two back of Milwaukee.

"This game, this series, this whole road trip was about the team," Braun said. "So many guys stepped up and contributed. It was nice that I was able to be that guy today to come up in a big situation and get a big hit."

He had an easier time hitting his game-winner on Thursday than he did relating how it felt.

"It's tough to explain," Braun said. "That's probably the best feeling in the world. There's nothing better, especially when it comes against a rival team that we're competing with to get to the postseason."

"It's tough to explain. That's probably the best feeling in the world. There's nothing better, especially when it comes against a rival team that we're competing with to get to the postseason."
-- Ryan Baun, on his
late home run

Salomon Torres struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth inning for his 19th save and preserved the win for Eric Gagne (3-2), who worked a scoreless eighth. Gagne was pitching in relief of Sheets, who allowed two earned runs on just four hits in seven innings.

"If I pitch games [like that], I'm going to win a lot of games," Sheets said. "I wanted to get deep into this game."

The Cardinals took an early lead against Sheets, who didn't see Skip Schumaker break for second base after a single in the first inning. Schumaker's stolen base set up Rick Ankiel for a two-out RBI single.

St. Louis made it 2-0 in the third inning, again with two outs. Adam Kennedy worked a leadoff walk from Sheets, moved to third on a double and scored on a sacrifice fly by Albert Pujols. The Brewers cut the deficit to 2-1 in the fourth inning when Jason Kendall drew a bases-loaded walk from Cards starter Todd Wellemeyer -- his fourth walk of the inning -- but Hart gave the run back in the bottom of the frame when he misplayed Wellemeyer's single to right field.

The baseball skipped under Hart's glove and rolled all the way to the wall while Ryan Ludwick scored from first base for a 3-1 Cardinals lead.

Hart entered the series hitting .330 with runners in scoring position, but he went 0-for-8 in the clutch in three games against the Cardinals. He made outs Thursday in the first, fourth, fifth and seventh innings, grounding into double plays in the fourth and the seventh. Hart narrowly avoided a third double play in the fifth inning by legging out a fielder's choice while Hardy scored.

"Games like that happen to everybody," Braun said. "Like, I went 0-for-6 in the first game of the series. I was terrible. But we won the game, so it felt like I was 4-for-4."

Said Yost: "You don't lose from one player. We don't play that."

Had the Brewers lost, Yost would have had a tough time convincing Hart. "It was such a bad game," Hart said. "I'm glad we won the game, so I didn't have to do something bad to myself. It makes it easy to live with yourself when the team wins. We're in that kind of race right now where the main thing is to win. Obviously you want to do well [personally], you don't want to mess up, but you want to win. And we did that tonight."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.