MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers matched the best start in franchise history with a 4-2 win over the Astros on Tuesday night, continuing a stint of stellar play that began when all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman took his spot at the back end of their bullpen. Coincidence? Starter Dave Bush doesn't think so. "He shortens the game to eight innings," said Bush (3-0), who handled the first six on Tuesday. "That makes a big difference."
Hoffman, who missed most of April with a rib-cage injury, continued to make up for lost time, working his sixth consecutive 1-2-3 inning to extend Milwaukee's winning streak to seven games. The Brewers have won 21 of their past 26 games to improve to 25-14 this season, equaling the 2007 club for the best 39-game start since the franchise started play as the Seattle Pilots in 1969. Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun scored two runs apiece and J.J. Hardy hit a pair of RBI singles, including one in the sixth that snapped a 2-2 tie. Bush worked six innings for his fourth consecutive quality start, and relievers Carlos Villanueva and Todd Coffey pitched a scoreless inning apiece to bridge the gap to Hoffman, who is 10-for-10 in save chances while putting up numbers worthy of a video game. Hoffman has retired 19 consecutive batters and 23 of the past 24 hitters he's faced since April 30, the only hit an infield single by Pittsburgh's Nate McLouth. Hoffman has gone three-up, three-down in six straight appearances, seven of his past eight and nine of 11 this season. He recorded his first two outs Tuesday on two pitches -- both fastballs -- and needed only eight total pitches to retire the side. Hoffman has yet to throw more than 17 pitches in an inning. "Everybody in the bullpen has benefited from him being there," Villanueva said, "even though he's only there for three innings every day." That's because of Hoffman's complicated pregame routine, just part of the workday for a 41-year-old who has been pitching the game's most stressful inning for 16 years. His postgame routine is just as extensive, meaning Hoffman is still in the training room more than an hour after the game, long after the reporters and teammates have left. "He's like another coach, a coach that is doing a great job for us right now," said Villanueva, who pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning a day after throwing 30 pitches over two scoreless innings in St. Louis. "I'm not saying that because he's old, but because of the wisdom he brings to us." Manager Ken Macha is only worried about the arm. So far, he likes what he sees. "My job now is to get us from when the starter is out of the game to Hoffman. That's the maneuvering I have to do," Macha said. "Once you get the closer in there, you've done your job for the day." The Brewers have been getting the ball to Hoffman a lot. But unlike the 2007 club, this one had to dig out of an early hole, falling to 4-9 with a loss in Philadelphia on April 21, while Hoffman was making the first of his two outings at Triple-A Nashville. He returned to active duty a week later. Since that loss in Philadelphia, the Brewers are 21-5, the best mark in baseball. They have climbed from the National League Central cellar to a first-place perch, three games ahead of the Cubs and Cardinals. "It's confidence," Hardy said. "We're coming out and we expect to win every game. Right now, we're playing good baseball. The pitching is keeping us in the game." Bush held Houston to two runs on seven hits while working around a walk and two hit batsmen, but he had to work. The Astros moved at least one runner into scoring position with fewer than two outs in four of Bush's six innings. "That was not very pretty, other than the result," Bush said. "It's gratifying because of that. I did not feel very good, and I had a lot of tough innings." They took a 1-0 lead against Bush in the first inning when Kazuo Matsui doubled, moved to third on a bunt single and scored on a botched rundown. But Bush recovered to retire Carlos Lee on a double-play grounder and Miguel Tejada on a bouncer back to the mound. "That first inning could have been a lot worse," Hardy said. "But Bushy got out of it and kept us right there." The Brewers scored two runs in the fourth inning for a 2-1 lead, but Bush surrendered a run in the fifth, when Astros reliever Russ Ortiz (2-2), who replaced an injured Mike Hampton, belted the first pitch he saw for a solo home run. It was Ortiz's first since July 2003. That one came against the Astros. The Brewers answered right back. Braun and Fielder drew successive walks leading off the sixth. Ortiz retired Mike Cameron on a popup behind first base before Hardy singled sharply to right field, scoring Braun just ahead of Hunter Pence's throw. Fielder moved to second on the hit and then to third on Mike Rivera's single before scoring an insurance run on Casey McGehee's sacrifice fly in his first career at-bat with the bases loaded. "Our offense, I would describe as 'workmanlike,'" Macha said. "We continue to work the pitchers." The Brewers worked five walks against the Astros, and three of those runners scored. The bullpen took it the rest of the way. "We know we have a solid team," Bush said. "We knew that at the beginning of the year when we weren't playing very well."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.