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Hart leads Brewers to fifth straight win

Hart leads Brewers to fifth straight win

MILWAUKEE -- Corey Hart patiently stood in the batter's box in the third inning, taking two called strikes to fall behind in the count.

His battle with Royals starter Brian Bannister was just beginning.

Hart fouled off one pitch, and then another. He kept spoiling pitches -- inside, outside, fastball, breaking pitch -- all the while climbing back into the count. Finally, after having staved off seven two-strike pitches, Hart coaxed a walk from a drained Bannister.

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"He was tough on me tonight," Bannister said. "That, obviously, was the game changer for me -- his two at-bats in the first and the third."

Hart simply refused to make an out on Saturday night. The Brewers' leadoff hitter continued his sizzling hitting of late, going 3-for-3 with a walk and seemingly sparking every Milwaukee rally. His pesky approach at the plate powered the Brewers to a comfortable 7-1 victory over the Royals before 41,721 fans at Miller Park.

The Brewers have won five games in a row and nine of their last 10. Saturday's win also guaranteed the club's fourth straight series win, and they will go for the sweep Sunday afternoon in their final Interleague game of the year.

"Corey's really playing well right now, really swinging the bat, just starting up a lot of the offense for us," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "You just ride it out as long as you can."

The top six batters in the Brewers lineup each drove in at least one run, and Milwaukee also got a stellar pitching performance from starter Dave Bush (5-6), who held the Royals to just one earned run on eight hits and a walk in seven innings.

"Right now, we're in one of those team grooves where everybody's picking each other up," Hart said. "It's not one guy just taking over. Everybody's kind of contributing and coming through with big hits."

But none of that would have been possible without Hart. His three hits matched a career high, and he extended his hitting streak to a career-best 10 games.

In the 18 starts he has made at the leadoff spot since Yost slotted him there on May 30, Hart has torn up opposing pitching at a .387 (29-for-75) clip with seven home runs, 18 RBIs, 21 runs scored and nine stolen bases.

The lanky outfielder led off the game with a line drive single to left on the seventh pitch of the at-bat, after he fouled off three 1-2 pitches. Craig Counsell then doubled Hart home and later scored on Prince Fielder's RBI groundout for a 2-0 Brewers lead.

"I was trying to put the ball in play, and I just kept fouling it off," Hart said. "I try not to strike out that much and obviously shorten up my swing.

"I'm starting to get the hang of that kind of approach, and it seems to be working out."

The Royals clipped back with a run in the second inning, but Hart helped the Brewers dash the comeback with a three-spot in the third inning.

Hart sparked the rally with that 13-pitch walk that simply wore out Bannister. Ryan Braun and Johnny Estrada then followed with RBI hits later in the frame to stretch the Milwaukee lead to 5-1.

"That at-bat takes a huge toll on a pitcher," Yost said. "You're standing out there making pitch after pitch after pitch after pitch after pitch. You're getting your pitch count up, and you're throwing everything at him but the kitchen sink trying to get him out.

"We've experienced it on the pitching side, where you're sitting there looking -- OK, foul ball, foul ball, foul ball -- you're thinking, 'Man, get this guy out. The pitch count is climbing.'"

Bill Hall hammered a solo home run in the fifth inning, and Hart then completed the scoring with a two-out RBI single in the sixth. Hart tallied three-hits for the second straight night and is batting .476 (10-for-21) so far during this homestand.

Milwaukee tagged Bannister (4-4) for six runs on six hits and three walks in five innings. The right-hander struck out seven.

His Brewers counterpart fared better. Bush won his second consecutive start, lowering his ERA from 5.48 to 5.17. He threw 107 pitches, marking the second straight game he has topped the century mark. He threw a season-high 111 pitches May 3, but then began faltering late in games during a poor stretch in May.

"He pitched very well -- another real strong outing for him tonight," Yost said. "He was on the attack, throwing strikes, working both sides of the plate."

Milwaukee's day was dampened only by the news that shortstop J.J. Hardy will likely miss Sunday afternoon's series finale for the third consecutive game. Hardy continued to feel tightness in his lower back when he swung a bat in the indoor batting cage Saturday, and Yost said he would hold Hardy out until Monday.

But the Brewers offense did fine without Hardy on Saturday night, thanks to yet another explosive performance by the 6-foot-6 Hart.

"He's doing all the things that you want a leadoff hitter to do -- seeing pitches, getting his hits, drawing walks, stealing bases," Brewers hitting coach Jim Skaalen said. "It's been fun to see."

Kelvin Ang is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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