And a game Milwaukee needed to have, especially with Sabathia on the mound against a San Diego team that could be mathematically eliminated from postseason contention as early as Monday. The Brewers also risked missing another chance to gain a game on the first-place Cubs, who lost in Cincinnati.
With their win, the Brewers pulled to within four games of Chicago in the National League Central. Milwaukee maintained a four-game lead on Philadelphia in the NL Wild Card race.
"That was a huge win," said lefty reliever Brian Shouse (5-1), who threw one pitch and won for the third time this season. "Who knows? Maybe this will spark something and we'll get on a little tear again. It was good to finally stop the bleeding."
Shouse may have saved the game with one of a number of terrific defensive plays by both teams.
Salomon Torres held San Diego in check for two scoreless innings, but David Riske surrendered a walk and a hit in the 11th that left runners at the corners with one out for Shouse. He induced a comebacker off the bat of Padres infielder Luis Rodriguez and, with the go-ahead runner charging home, spun to second base and initiated a gutsy 1-6-3 double play that preserved the 2-2 tie.
"My thought process right before I threw the pitch was that if I get a ground ball right to me and it's hit fairly hard, I have to go for the double play," Shouse said. "I was brought in there to get a ground-ball double play.
"If it was hit soft, then you have to check the runner and see what's going on. We were fortunate it was hit hard. It fell right into place."
The Brewers still needed to score a run, something that had been unable to do since Sabathia's go-ahead single in the fourth inning off opposing starter Josh Geer. That duty fell to Hardy, who grounded out with the winning run at third base to end the ninth inning but got another chance in the 11th against right-hander Brian Falkenborg (2-3).
With runners on first and third with one out, Hardy ripped a 1-2 offering to left field to win the game.
"I definitely had some chances tonight, but I wasn't disappointed with my at-bats," said Hardy, who was 0-for-5 before his winning hit. "I felt like I battled, like I was seeing the ball good and taking pitches. I hit the ball hard, it was just right at them."
That's what happened in the ninth, when pinch-runner Tony Gwynn Jr. was at third base with two outs, representing the winning run. Hardy hit a sharp grounder to shortstop Luis Rodriguez, who bobbled the baseball but threw to first just in time to retire Hardy and end the inning.
"It was bang-bang," Hardy said. "I think if I had hit it a little bit softer I would have been safe."
Sabathia went 2-for-3 at the plate including his go-ahead single, but the Padres made him work on the mound, just like they did at PETCO Park on Aug. 13. On Friday, Sabathia worked seven innings and only allowed one run, but he surrendered five hits and worked with the leadoff runner on base in every inning but the second and third.
He struck out nine and remained 9-0 since being traded from Cleveland to Milwaukee.
"You have to give them credit for not giving up," Sabathia said. "They're in last place, but they're not rolling over. We can't expect anybody to do that, especially given the position we're in now. You have to expect them to come out and try to play spoiler."
Sabathia worked out of his own first-and-third jam with a double play in the seventh inning, and the Brewers' 2-1 lead stood into the eighth, when Padres right fielder Brian Giles hit Gagne's second pitch for a solo home run.
It continued a tough homestand for Gagne, who was signed in the offseason to be Milwaukee's closer but eventually ceded the job to Torres. Gagne surrendered a go-ahead home run to the Mets' Carlos Delgado on Labor Day, then pitched a scoreless inning on Tuesday with three hard-hit flyouts.
Fans once again voiced their displeasure as Gagne's ERA ticked a bit higher on Friday, to 6.69. Yost was asked whether he was tempted to squeeze one more inning out of Sabathia.
"CC had gone through seven strong innings at 106 pitches, and I knew if I sent CC out for the eighth, that he was going to finish the eighth," said Yost, who noted that Sabathia labored a bit in the seventh. "I felt like that was enough. I didn't want to take him past 120 pitches today. I just can't keep doing that.
"So I made a decision that I would go with Gagne, and that was it."
The Brewers, 1-4 since their 20-7 August, finally had something to show for September.
"We need to forget about the last four days," Yost said. "Today's the start of a new streak."