MILWAUKEE -- "This is playoff baseball for us," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said after his team pulled off its most stunning victory of the season. If the actual playoffs prove this compelling, baseball fans everywhere are in for a treat.
In a third consecutive extra-inning thriller between two teams which have jockeyed in the National League Central, Orlando Arcia lined a tying leadoff home run in the bottom of the ninth inning and Travis Shaw hit a walk-off two-run blast in the 10th as the Brewers twice rallied against lights-out Cubs closer Wade Davis for an improbable 4-3 win in front of a sellout crowd on Saturday at Miller Park.
"It's a fabulous series to this point," said Cubs manager Joe Maddon. "There's no difference between these three games and the games that will occur next month [in the postseason]. They're absolutely that intense, well played on both sides. Give both teams credit."
The Brewers had lost their last 69 games when trailing after eight innings, dating to August 2016 in Seattle. Davis had converted 38 straight saves for the Royals and Cubs, including all 32 this season since signing with Chicago.
"I probably haven't been able to come up with the words for this series," Counsell said. "If this hasn't been the best baseball series that you've seen in a long time, then you've seen some pretty good baseball. This is as exciting as it gets."
Chicago's magic number to clinch the NL Central remained at five over St. Louis, pending the Cardinals' result later Saturday in Pittsburgh. Milwaukee climbed to 4 1/2 games behind the Cubs in the division, and one game behind the Rockies for the second NL Wild Card spot.
Davis' streak of 32 saves to begin his Cubs career was a franchise record. It ended leading off the ninth, when Arcia connected with a high-and-tight fastball and kept it fair down the left-field line for his 15th home run.
The Cubs answered right back in the top of the 10th, taking a 3-2 lead on Jon Jay's RBI single that sent Davis back to the mound with another one-run cushion. Ryan Braun hit a one-out double before Shaw sent a curveball into the Brewers' bullpen in left-center field, where Milwaukee's remaining relievers threw up their hands in celebration.
"There's nothing to lament right there," Maddon said. "They hit a couple home runs, give them credit. Another intensely good baseball game and they got us at the end. There's no way, shape or form to point a finger at Wade."
"Obviously, I wanted to win today's game and put us in a better position than we were [before the game]," Davis said. "That kind of stinks. Move on from it."
That is precisely what the Brewers did after losing each of the previous three games in their opponent's final at-bat. Twice on Saturday, they were three outs away from a similarly cruel finish before Arcia and Shaw saved them.
"This felt like one of the more-significant regular-season wins I've ever been a part of," said 10-year veteran Braun. "For us, it was a must-win game. A game that keeps us alive. And just a lot of fun -- they have been phenomenal baseball games all the way around."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Orlando magic: Maybe it was the volume of Cubs fans who made the drive up Interstate 94 for this showdown series, but Miller Park seemed eerily subdued when Arcia connected off Davis. At 107.3 mph off the bat, according to Statcast™, it was the hardest batted ball of any kind in Arcia's career. Off the bat, the question was whether it would stay fair.
"Actually, I thought it might go foul," Arcia said through translator Carlos Brizuela. "After those first two games, we definitely needed it. You turn the page after two bad losses and look forward to the next one."
"I wanted to get it in more and, obviously, I didn't," Davis said. "He put a pretty good swing on it."
Doing the little things: The late-inning back-and-forth began in the eighth, when the Cubs' first four batters did the little things right to help Chicago take a 2-1 lead. It started with Ian Happ going the opposite way with a Jacob Barnes cutter on the other half of home plate and sending a leadoff double to the wall in left-center field, and Jason Heyward followed by taking a four-pitch walk. Since the Brewers' best left-handed bullpen weapon, Josh Hader, was down for the day, Anthony Swarzak took over to face lefty-hitting Jay, who pushed a textbook sacrifice bunt to third base. Kris Bryant then followed by guessing right at a slider, Swarzak's primary pitch, and lifting a sacrifice fly that was deep enough to deny strong-armed Brewers center fielder Brett Phillips a chance to throw home.
"You can feel the energy, but I think we're just not letting it get to us. You know it's there, but we've been in that moment. It feels pretty normal. We know what has to be done and we're just going pitch to pitch. You hear a lot of guys say, 'The heartbeat's there.' It's impressive to watch everybody that locked in and focused on the task." -- Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks, on the vibe this series, comparing it to postseason play. Hendricks allowed one run on eight hits while striking out six over six innings.
"It's certainly improbable. ... If anything, it describes us this year and how the whole season has went. Everybody in there should be proud. It didn't look good, multiple times, but they kept coming back." -- Counsell, on the pair of comebacks against Davis
WHAT'S NEXT Cubs: Lefty Jose Quintana will close this series on Sunday. Quintana did not get a decision in his last outing against the Cardinals, giving up three runs over 5 2/3 innings. He's faced the Brewers once this year, July 28, and took the loss, giving up two runs over six innings. First pitch is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. CT from Miller Park.
Brewers:Chase Anderson's last start against the Cubs was a gem -- five efficient, scoreless innings at Wrigley Field that ended after 67 pitches because the Brewers had a 14-0 lead in the sixth. He'll look to repeat that outing when the series concludes Sunday.