Brewers rally to seize sole lead in NL wild-card race

MILWAUKEE -- A mop-up reliever and a one-time top prospect who has lost his starting job helped the Milwaukee Brewers gain control their own playoff destiny again.

Rickie Weeks hit a three-run homer in the seventh, Seth McClung pitched four scoreless innings in relief and the Brewers rallied to beat the Chicago Cubs 5-1 on Friday night for their fifth straight win and the lead in the NL wild-card race.

"Anybody can win a game for us at any time," said Weeks, who has just 19 at-bats in the last two weeks after being relegated to a bench role. "It's the first time we've been in this atmosphere, I think, a playoff situation like this."

With the Mets losing 6-1 to Florida, Milwaukee leads New York by a game with two to play.

"It's a good feeling when you have destiny in your hands," Brewers interim manager Dale Sveum said. "We don't have to chase anybody, we're not tied, we're not anything. It's in our hands now."

The win eliminated the Astros even though Houston beat Atlanta 5-4.

Weeks has struggled with a .236 average but replaced veteran Ray Durham after the sixth. He drove reliever Chad Gaudin's pitch deep to left field and flipped his bat as his shot cleared the wall to score McClung and Mike Cameron.

"The good thing about Rickie is he's probably the most strong-minded guy you'll ever be around," Sveum said.

Corey Hart added a two-out run-scoring single in the sixth and Jason Kendall a two-out RBI double in the second to put the Brewers back on top of a race they seemed likely to win at the start of September, when they led the wild-card race by 5 1/2 games.

But Milwaukee dropped 15 of 19 to begin the regular season's final month. Manager Ned Yost was fired and replaced with Sveum, leaving the Brewers in a desperate scramble to reach the postseason for the first time since 1982.

"It was like being in detention for a month, then your first day out for recess, just getting out there and having fun again and playing the game where it's fun," McClung said. "We're having fun right now."

Now Milwaukee is a win away from at least a spot in a play-in game, but the Brewers would have to go on the road in every tiebreaker scenario and would rather just keep beating the Cubs.

They did on Friday night with McClung's stellar work out of the bullpen.

"If you had to say a guy at the beginning of the year that you didn't expect, you could almost make him our MVP, especially if we get into the playoffs," Sveum said. "He's done everything we've asked of him, and he's done an awesome job."

With the game tied at 1 in the sixth, Cubs reliever Sean Marshall (3-5) allowed a leadoff double to Durham and walked Ryan Braun before striking out Prince Fielder. Jeff Samardzija came in and got J.J. Hardy to pop up for the second out, but Hart flared a go-ahead RBI single to left, his second of the game after coming in hitting .172 in September.

In the seventh, backup catcher Koyie Hill was called for catcher's interference during McClung's at-bat. McClung reached second on a balk and moved to third on Cameron's single before Weeks' shot off Gaudin made it 5-1.

"We've been trying to get Gaudin ready for the postseason and that's not coming along very well," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said.

The Brewers got yet another victory despite a shaky starting rotation that's held up to every move Sveum's made. The next risk comes Saturday, when All-Star Ben Sheets (sore elbow) starts for the first time since Sept. 17.

Brewers starter Jeff Suppan, 0-3 with a 10.47 ERA in his first four September starts, allowed eight hits and a walk over five innings. McClung (6-6) did the rest, striking out six and retiring 10 of the final 11 Cubs.

"Dale said that we were going to go out there and play with kind of a football mentality as far as showing your emotions," McClung said. "That just fits me perfect."

Suppan's lone mistake was a belt-high pitch to Jim Edmonds in the second that Edmonds launched in the Brewers' bullpen to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead. But Kendall tied it in the bottom of the second with his RBI double, scoring Hart.

Dempster, who'll start Game 1 of the National League Division Series, threw five innings in his final tuneup before the postseason. He allowed four hits and a walk while striking out four over 80 pitches before being replaced by Marshall.

"I felt really good, prepared physically and mentally," Dempster said. "I did what I needed to do, and now I have another start five days from now. I will be ready for that one, it'll be exciting."

Piniella said Carlos Zambrano, Rich Harden and Ted Lilly would start following Dempster in the playoffs.

After Sheets, Milwaukee will send CC Sabathia (10-2, 1.78) to the mound on short rest for the third consecutive time on Sunday if it's necessary to secure a postseason berth.

Game notes
The Cubs are under no pressure in this final three-game series, having locked up homefield advantage in the NL. They still played their starting lineup except Mark DeRosa, sidelined with a strained calf. ... DeRosa said he hopes to play on Sunday, but won't jeopardize the postseason to do it. ... Sveum said Durham came out due to a tight hamstring that's been bothering him. ... Cubs C Geovany Soto left in the sixth inning after reaggravating his sore left hand, but said it's nothing to worry about. ... Brewers owner Mark Attanasio said general manager Doug Melvin would make the decision whether to retain Sveum for the 2009 season.