MILWAUKEE -- For the first time since they acquired him three weeks ago, the Brewers saw CC Sabathia without his best stuff. He was still nearly good enough to win. Instead, an untimely error by second baseman Rickie Weeks cost Sabathia a chance to improve to 5-0 since the trade, and a ninth-inning Cubs rally cost the Brewers a chance to take the opener of a four-game battle for National League Central supremacy. Sabathia settled for a no-decision, and the Brewers swallowed a 6-4 loss to the Cubs on Monday at Miller Park.
"That's my Dave Burba approach," Sabathia joked, a good-natured jab at his former Indians teammate and a former Brewer. "If you don't have it, fake it." Sabathia faked it into the seventh inning on Monday in front of more than 45,000 fans and may have been one double play away from another win. Instead, Sabathia needed a homer from another old Indians teammate -- Russell Branyan -- to avoid his first Brewers loss. In 6 2/3 innings, Sabathia was charged with four runs -- three of them earned -- on nine hits. He walked two and struck out three. It ended his streak of three consecutive complete games and marked the highest number of runs and hits he'd allowed since the July 7 trade from Cleveland. "They really made me work," Sabathia said. "I really didn't have my out pitch, my cutter. I was leaving that up and away and they were just looking at that. I tried to do the best I could." "The competitor in him just continued to battle through it," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "He made pitches when he needed to, the defense helped him at times." The defense did manage to help Sabathia in the sixth inning. With the Brewers in a 2-0 hole, Derrek Lee tried to score from second base on a Mark DeRosa single but was thrown out at the plate by Brewers center fielder Mike Cameron. The next batter was Ryan Theriot, who hit a sharp grounder up the first-base line that was snared by a diving Prince Fielder. When Fielder stumbled toward first, he shoveled the baseball to Sabathia for a close out to end the inning. "That was a big play in the game," Sabathia said. "[Fielder] diving and me getting over, who could have ever thought that would happen?" His defense couldn't come through in the seventh, after the Brewers had rallied for a 3-2 lead. Ronny Cedeno led off with a single and moved to second on Kosuke Fukudome's infield hit off Weeks' glove. Both runners advanced as Alfonso Soriano struck out, and Sabathia walked Reed Johnson to load the bases. With Sabathia at 112 pitches and the heart of the Chicago order coming up, Yost stayed with his starter. Next up was Lee, arguably the Cubs' best hitter, but also a man who leads the National League with 21 double-play grounders. "He's a horse," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said of Sabathia. "You can see what confidence they have in him. They left him in to face the meat of our lineup." Sabathia nearly escaped. He induced a bouncer by Lee to shortstop, but second baseman Weeks botched the relay throw as two runs scored for a 4-3 Cubs lead. "He got to 3-and-2 [on Lee] and I'm just thinking, 'Make one more pitch,'" Yost said. "If you look at Derrek Lee's numbers, he's got 21 double plays. That's what you're looking to do, try to get him to do it. CC got it, we just didn't turn it." The Brewers will go back to Sabathia on Saturday in the middle of a weekend series in Atlanta. Yost and general manager Doug Melvin are banking that Sabathia can help deliver the Brewers to their first postseason since 1982. He'll likely have a chance for a rematch against the Cubs before then. The teams play a pair of series over the final two weeks of the regular season, including a three-game set at Miller Park at the end of September. "I think we're pretty evenly matched with those guys over there," Sabathia said. "They've got a good lineup, they've got a good pitching staff, but we do, too. We have to keep playing hard, having fun, and then look up at the end of the year to see what happens."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.