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Hart’s walk-off HR lifts Brewers to sweep

July 11, 2010

MILWAUKEE — It was the perfect ending to a great week for Corey Hart.

A week after being named to his second All-Star Game, the Brewers right fielder capped the first half of the season with his second walk-off home run on Sunday.

Hart, who had struggled through his first four at-bats of the game, crushed a 1-0 slider out to left off Pirates closer Octavio Dotel, giving the Brewers the 6-5 victory at Miller Park.

“I was trying to see something and get a hit,” Hart said. “When I hit it, I didn’t want to be one of those guys that put my hand way up in the air, so I gave it the half finger because I thought I got it.

“I knew it was going to be over his head, so I knew the run would score.”

Hart’s blast put an exclamation point on what is sure to be a memorable day for him, as he was named to the starting lineup of the National League All-Star squad as a replacement for injured Braves outfielder Jason Heyward.

Afterward, Hart was all smiles after his team-leading 21st home run saved the day for Milwaukee and sent the Brewers into the All-Star break on a positive note.

“They were giving Corey a lot of breaking balls,” Brewers manager Ken Macha said. “He finally got one up and didn’t miss it. That’s a nice ending to the first half.

“The climate in [the clubhouse] is a 180 [degrees different] from the end of the [previous] series.”

Not only did Hart give the Brewers the win, but the two-time All-Star also picked up the slack of closer John Axford.

With the Brewers having tied the score at 4 in the eighth on a pair of singles by Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez, the game was placed in Axford’s hands with the expectation that he would give the home team a chance to win in the bottom half of the ninth.

Axford (5-1), who was pitching for the third straight game, gave up a pair of singles to open the inning, which was followed by a sacrifice fly to right, putting the Pirates ahead by a run.

The first single, which came on a bunt by Ronny Cedeno in which he narrowly avoided a tag by first baseman Prince Fielder, was a call which Axford did not agree with afterward.

“I thought Prince got him right on the heel, so did Prince,” Axford said. “I’m sure if you ask the umpires, they’ll say, ‘No,’ but if you ask them without a paper and pen and maybe a recorder, they might say that he was tagged.

“It was right there. I was standing right in front of it, and it looked pretty good. I even thought I heard it.”

Axford escaped the inning when he snagged a ball hit back through the middle and started a crucial inning-ending double play.

Though he was frustrated when he returned to the dugout, Axford reminded himself that his club was certainly capable of coming back again.

Three batters later, he was right.

Lefty starter Randy Wolf was not as sharp as he might have liked to have been, but he did just enough to keep the Brewers in the game. Wolf allowed four runs on seven hits over six innings while walking three and recording five strikeouts.

For the second straight outing, Wolf had a solid start except for one bad inning — a three-run second frame. The only other blemish was a solo homer in the sixth by rookie third baseman Pedro Alvarez.

“One rough inning,” Wolf said. “I left some balls over the plate, and they had a three-run inning. That last run. … I was successful all day with fastballs to Alvarez and he just finally caught up to one and he barreled it.

“I’m not happy with it, but I’m glad we ended up winning in the end.”

Despite his lack of success early on — Alvarez was 0-for-2 with two strikeouts going into the at-bat — he stuck with it and gave his team the 4-3 lead.

“You never know when you can get a big hit,” he said. “It’s a matter of not giving up, and I just kept with it. I was fortunate enough to put a good swing on the ball.”

Along with Hart’s big blast, the Brewers got two more homers, solo shots by Braun and George Kottaras.

For Braun, who continues to break out of a prolonged slump, the home run was his second in as many games as he went 5-for-8 with two home runs, five runs and three RBIs in the three-game sweep.

After dropping five straight with some of their worst performances of the season, the Brewers head into the All-Star break riding a wave of momentum.

“We feel better about ourselves, that’s a good thing,” Braun said. “It’s irrelevant to think about whether we’ve won four or five games in a row or lost four or five in a row.

“We just need to focus on the task at hand, go inning to inning, at-bat to at-bat, pitch to pitch and try to put ourselves in the best position to be successful.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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