MILWAUKEE -- As Ken Macha and Ryan Braun told it, the Brewers' wild finish on Friday was all part of the plan. Braun's grounder narrowly scored Rickie Weeks for the winning run as the Brewers capped a two-run, ninth-inning rally against the Cubs' new closer and walked off with a 4-3 win in a home opener played before the second-largest crowd in Miller Park history. "That was fun," said Macha, who won his home debut as Milwaukee's manager. "That's why everybody comes out for Opening Day. They want to see a game just like that."
Added Braun: "We get paid to entertain, so we wanted to make it interesting. We want the fans to have a good time." That they did. The Brewers had trailed, 3-2, after reliever Seth McClung surrendered a two-out, two-run home run to Cubs No. 8 hitter Koyie Hill in the sixth. But in the ninth inning against Cubs closer Kevin Gregg (0-1), late-game replacement Chris Duffy worked a one-out walk and then scored the tying run when Weeks' double carried over left fielder Alfonso Soriano's head. It was one of only four Brewers hits. Weeks alertly moved to third when a wild pitch skipped away from Hill, and Corey Hart walked before Braun hit a soft grounder to shortstop Ryan Theriot. Weeks slid head-first into home plate ahead of the throw, and the Brewers walked off winners. "I was safe," Weeks said. "But it was a real close play, actually. The ball got in there at the same time I did." Braun was awarded an RBI on a fielder's choice groundout, and he also drove home Weeks with a first-inning single. But he had missed a similar RBI opportunity in the seventh inning, when he popped out to right field with the bases loaded, and atoned in the ninth to make a winner of Carlos Villanueva (1-0), who had worked a hitless frame. Milwaukee has won all five of its home openers since Mark Attanasio bought the team. Perhaps the lucky charm is Attanasio's dad, Joe, who sang the national anthem before all five games. The crowd of 45,455 was the Brewers' second largest in eight-plus seasons at Miller Park, second only to the 46,218 who attended a Cubs-Brewers game on Sept. 6, 2003, and for five innings, they were happy. Braun's first-inning single and Hart's opposite-field, solo homer in the third made it 2-0. Braden Looper made his Brewers debut and limited the Cubs to one run -- on Milton Bradley's leadoff homer in the fourth -- on five hits in five solid innings. He did issue four walks, but minimized the damage with four strikeouts and one double-play grounder. "I definitely wouldn't say that I pitched my best," said Looper, who missed the first half of Spring Training with a rib cage injury. "I knew early on that I didn't have my command like I normally do. But I had a really good changeup, and I was just trying to keep the ball down and let the guys make plays. ... I've had to learn how to 'pitch,' in the sense of when you don't feel like you are really good that day, you try to still give the team a chance to win. I feel like I did that today." Looper threw 97 pitches, 52 of which were strikes. He remains winless at Miller Park, 0-4 now in 19 career appearances, including four starts. "I'm still trying to figure him out," Macha said. "Strike 1 wasn't in the recipe for him today." Cubs starter Rich Harden was a notch better, holding the Brewers to two runs -- only one of which was earned because of Theriot's first-inning error -- on three hits with 10 strikeouts. It was his eighth career double-digit strikeout performance. "His off-speed pitch is a changeup, but sometimes it [acts like] a slider; sometimes it's a splitter, and his fastball is really explosive," Braun said. "His arm action is a little different from most pitchers, so it's difficult to pick the ball up." The conditions added to the Brewers' difficulties. Both starters, in fact, might have been aided in the early innings by the sunshine pouring through the windows along the first-base line. The resulting shadows are brutal for hitters, especially in the mid-afternoon hours. "It's miserable," Braun said. "This is definitely the worst place to hit in baseball for a 3 o'clock game. Guys on both teams were really struggling, especially when you have guys with good velocity." Harden certainly fits that billing, and he moved in line for the win in the top of the sixth when McClung replaced Looper and retired the first two hitters he faced. Theriot extended the inning with a single to bring up Hill, who started behind the plate for an injured Geovany Soto. McClung, working almost exclusively with fastballs, grooved a 1-2 pitch, and Hill hit it over the left-field wall for a 3-2 Cubs lead. But the Brewers rallied for a win, capping a strange day. Because they didn't return from San Francisco until 3 a.m. CT, about 12 hours before Looper's first pitch, Macha allowed for a later-than-usual report time for players. That left players snared in Opening Day traffic, and some, including Hart, didn't arrive until well after the turnstiles opened. "It took me two hours to get to the park today," said Hart, who rents a house in the suburbs west of Milwaukee. "I was playing catch-up all day. I didn't get to eat, didn't get to stretch and do the things I wanted to do. But obviously, we got here and took care of what we needed to do and get a win."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.