Capuano's win three years in making

Capuano's win three years in making

PITTSBURGH -- Brewers left-hander Chris Capuano took the mound in the bottom of the second inning Monday after waiting through a 50-minute rain delay. That was nothing. He'd been seeking another Major League victory for more than three years.

Prince Fielder claimed the National League lead with his 23rd home run, and Rickie Weeks delivered a go-ahead, two-run shot in the sixth inning to back Capuano, the pitcher of record in the Brewers' 3-1 win over the Pirates in the opener of a four-game series at PNC Park.

Starting in place of the injured Doug Davis, Capuano (1-1) notched his first win in the big leagues since he beat the Nationals at Miller Park on May 7, 2007. He would spend all of 2008 and 2009 recovering from his second career Tommy John surgery, a grueling elbow procedure from which some pitchers never return.

But there he was in the box score with a "W" next to his name for the first time since Ned Yost was the Brewers' manager and Monday's catcher, Jonathan Lucroy, was a Draft hopeful at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. Now 31 and married to his college sweetheart, Sarah, who was in the seats Monday night, Capuano allowed three hits over five innings. He struck out four and issued one walk, which led to Pittsburgh's lone run.

"The winning and losing part of it becomes a lot less important when you're faced with, 'Am I going to be able to play again?'" Capuano said. "Going through a time like that, where you're not sure if you're going to be able to make it back, it really puts the bad stuff in perspective.

"So, coming into this year, I wasn't really thinking about [the winless drought]. But tonight, pitching in the game and then coming out [to] watch the rest of the game, I surprised myself how much I was aware of it, how anxious I felt. And how good it felt for the team to get that win."

Before Monday, the Brewers were 2-28 in Capuano's 30 appearances since his last victory. He dropped 13 consecutive decisions along the way, the longest losing streak among active Major Leaguers.

The streak ended when John Axford wiggled out of a ninth-inning jam for his 12th save. Now the longest losing streak belongs to Mariners closer David Aardsma, who is 0-6 this year and has lost nine straight decisions since last August.

"The time since my last win definitely wasn't lost on me," Capuano said. "It was a really nice gift from the team. There were some hard-hit balls I gave up, and they played great defense. I left four innings for the 'pen to eat up. So it feels really good, and I really appreciate it from my team."

The good vibes were mutual.

"He deserves everything he gets," Lucroy said. "Bottom line is that he battled. It's hard to be perfect in this game. One run through five innings, that's pretty good for a guy who's come through what he did."

"Anybody coming back from two Tommy Johns, I tip my hat to him to come back," Pirates starter Jeff Karstens said. "I knew he was good before, and then you didn't hear about him for a little while even though I knew he got hurt. I didn't know it was two Tommy Johns. But to see him get back and pitch the way he did, I tip my hat to him."

Capuano and Karstens (2-5) each endured a 50-minute rain delay in the middle of the second inning and continued to duel. Karstens retired the first 12 Brewers batters he faced before Fielder's opposite-field homer leading off the fifth inning gave the Brewers a 1-0 lead. Capuano lost it in the bottom of the frame, when he walked Pedro Alvarez, retired the next two hitters he faced, then surrendered a tying triple to No. 8 hitter Ronny Cedeno.

The Brewers quickly reclaimed the lead. Pinch-hitter Carlos Gomez replaced Capuano and legged out a bunt single. He trotted the rest of the way home after Weeks hammered a 3-and-0 Karstens pitch for a 3-1 Brewers lead.

Weeks' 18th home run made up for the fact that he ignored what the players read as a "take" sign from third-base coach Brad Fischer.

"I was going to swing anyway," Weeks said, shrugging. "I didn't want to come back and have [Karstens] throw me a whole bunch of junk."

Relievers Todd Coffey, Zach Braddock, Kameron Loe and Axford preserved Capuano's long-awaited win, though the Pirates made Axford work. Garrett Jones led off with a single and Alvarez took another walk, but Axford struck out the dangerous Ryan Doumit -- who touched Axford for a home run before the All-Star break -- and Ryan Church, then retired Cedeno on a game-ending groundout.

Axford is a perfect 12-for-12 in save opportunities since taking the job from Trevor Hoffman. Axford underwent Tommy John surgery in college and was aware of Capuano's winless streak, thanks to his fellow Brewers relievers. They talked about it in the bullpen after Weeks hit the go-ahead homer.

"I remember [Carlos] Villanueva saying, 'That's awesome. We need to win this for Cappy,'" Axford said.

The Brewers won for the sixth time in their last eight games, including a three-game sweep of the Pirates at Miller Park just before the All-Star break. Since 2007, the Brewers have won 42 of 57 matchups with the Pirates.

Manager Ken Macha faces some decisions in the next week. Left-hander Manny Parra continues to struggle, and Capuano at least gives the Brewers an alternative, should they choose to ship Parra back to the bullpen.

"I'm not sure what they're going to do after this," Capuano said. "Whatever they do, it's not going to take away from tonight."

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