ATLANTA -- The Brewers squared up plenty of Tim Hudson's pitches in the first 7 2/3 innings on Friday night and had absolutely nothing to show for it. Then suddenly they rallied, doing so not with line drives and home runs, but with a string of broken-bat hits and a go-ahead walk for one of their more crucial and uplifting wins this season. As a result, their 4-1 triumph over the Braves at Turner Field kept the Brewers on pace with the first-place Cubs, 1 1/2 games back in the National League Central with a little more than a week to play. "This game is stupid," shortstop J.J. Hardy cracked after watching Braves left fielder Matt Diaz make a leaping catch at the wall for the second out of the eighth inning.
"Plain stupid." Stupid, but certainly fun to watch. Shut down by Hudson into the eighth inning, the Brewers were poised to spoil a tremendous start by Carlos Villanueva, who would have pitched more than six innings had Milwaukee not been so desperate for offense. Instead, the Brewers pushed the clutch. Hardy's long out left Hudson one out from getting to the ninth with a 1-0 lead, but Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder singled to set up Corey Hart for a game-tying single, one of Hart's three hits in the game. Two batters later, Joe Dillon worked a four-pitch go-ahead walk, and Bill Hall followed that with an opposite-field hit for a 3-1 lead Milwaukee would not relinquish. Scott Linebrink (5-6) worked out of a jam in the seventh for the win, Derrick Turnbow was sharp against the heart of the Atlanta batting order in a scoreless eighth and Francisco Cordero pitched the ninth for his 44th save. "I just kept feeling that if we could keep it close, somewhere later in this game, we would find a way to score some runs," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. With the way Hudson was throwing, what made him feel that? "I just feel good about our guys," Yost said. "That, and the seven balls we hit right on the nose." Funny, then, that Braun, Hart and Hall all reached on broken-bat hits during the decisive rally. "With all the balls we hit hard [for outs], we deserved some broken-bat hits," Hall said. "I'll take it any way I can get it," Hart said. The Brewers were 0-for-6 in the game and 0-for-13 in the series with runners in scoring position entering the eighth, when Hudson (16-9) retired the first two hitters he faced to keep his shutout intact. After the hits by Braun and Fielder, Hart delivered his third hit of the game and tied it at 1. With a 3-for-5 night, Hart boosted his average to .419 (39-for-93) over his last 28 games. He is among the league leaders with runners in scoring position, batting .359 (37-for-103). "The emphasis is always on Prince and Rickie [Weeks] and J.J., and [Hart] is always quietly a star right behind them," Yost said. Hart and Fielder advanced a base on an error by right fielder Jeff Francoeur, so Hudson intentionally walked Geoff Jenkins to load the bases. When left-handed-hitting Gabe Gross stepped into the on-deck circle, the Braves countered with lefty Ron Mahay. The Brewers then countered with Dillon, who took a four-pitch walk for a 2-1 lead. That prompted another call to the Braves' bullpen -- Atlanta skipper Bobby Cox was ejected before he got to the mound -- for right-hander Tyler Yates. The move didn't work as Hall, whose struggles have pushed him into a reserve role over the last two weeks, singled to right, and while Francoeur threw out Jenkins at the plate to end the inning, the Brewers had a 3-1 lead. Braun hit a sacrifice fly for an insurance run in the ninth. The rally came too late to make a winner of Villanueva, who was replaced in the top of the seventh by a pinch-hitter. Villanueva threw 75 pitches, holding the Braves to a Mark Teixeira solo home run in six solid innings. He surrendered three total hits, walked three and struck out four. "Villanueva, you've got to give him some credit," Cox said. "He mixed his speeds. He's sneaky quick and absolutely knows what he's doing out there. He was tough." "We got into a position there in the sixth inning where we needed to hit," Yost said. "If you're ahead, you can keep riding him. We needed to start doing everything we could at that point, because you knew Hudson was going to be stingy with the offense." Still, it was another quality outing, and it was one Villanueva was looking forward to. "Since last year, I haven't really had to pitch against a guy of such high quality," Villanueva said. "I saw the matchup coming in, and it's fun being compared against one of the best. I didn't get the 'W,' but it was a team win." And a big one at that. The Brewers were well aware that the Cubs had won as players and coaches watched the Cubs-Pirates game on a Turner Field television before batting practice. That's taking scoreboard watching to a whole new level. "You can't help it," Villanueva said. "Everywhere you look, the game is on or somebody is listening. Why hide it? Everybody wants to know. I was pitching today and I was watching it. Maybe you use it as positive motivation, like, 'They won? Let's go out there and get the "W" then so we can keep up with them.'"
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.