Mark Kotsay lifts Brewers past Dodgers

MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Brewers are running away from the rest of the NL Central.

Pinch-hitter Mark Kotsay delivered a tiebreaking RBI single in the ninth inning and the Brewers beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 2-1 on Tuesday night to take their biggest division lead ever this late in the season.

"We've found our identity," Kotsay said. "Our pitching staff's leading us and we're scoring enough runs to win games."

The NL Central-leading Brewers have won 18 of 20 and are seven games ahead of second-place St. Louis after the Cardinals lost 5-4 to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"You've got to take each day as it comes and try to catch Philly. That's our goal," Nyjer Morgan said. "Since we have nobody to really chase in our division, let's go chase Philly."

Milwaukee is 7½ games behind the Philadelphia Phillies for the National League's best record.

"We're hot, but this is a good club," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "This is a club that when it's close, right now we feel like we're going to win the ballgame."

After a pitching duel between Yovani Gallardo and Chad Billingsley, the Dodgers bullpen imploded in the ninth.

Hong-Chih Kuo (0-2) issued a leadoff walk to Prince Fielder and then left for Mike MacDougal. Casey McGehee singled on MacDougal's first pitch to put men on first and second and Yuniesky Betancourt walked on four pitches. Kotsay followed with a single and the celebration was on again.

"It's contagious. Winning's contagious," Kotsay said. "Any time you get a lot of confidence, you play good baseball."

Milwaukee is a major league-best 46-15 at Miller Park and has a bigger lead in the division than the 1982 Brewers did on their way to winning the AL East and the American League pennant.

"You can't let up, you've still got to go out there and try to win every ballgame," Gallardo said. "We've still got more than a month to go, we're playing good baseball now. We've got to keep moving."

Takashi Saito (4-1) pitched the ninth for the win.

Gallardo and Billingsley were terrific all night long. Each gave up a run in the second and four hits total.

Billingsley pitched seven innings for the Dodgers, retiring 14 of his final 15 batters.

Gallardo allowed a single to Juan Rivera in the fourth and then retired 12 in a row before walking pinch-hitter Trent Oeltjen with two out in the eighth. Tony Gwynn Jr. followed with a sharp single to put runners on the corners. Gwynn stole second, but Gallardo fanned Casey Blake to finish with nine strikeouts.

"I tried to find that good rhythm, and I was able to do that after the second inning," Gallardo said.

Billingsley got out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning and Los Angeles took a 1-0 lead in the second when Matt Kemp singled, stole second, reached third on a wild pitch and scored on Aaron Miles' single.

Milwaukee answered in the bottom half on Corey Hart's run-scoring groundout.

The Brewers squandered the only chance either team had to take the lead.

Fielder doubled to start the sixth and reached third on a groundout. But Betancourt swung through the first pitch from Billingsley as Fielder took off for home. Caught in a rundown after Betancourt missed the bunt sign, Fielder stopped and simply fell to the ground, where he was tagged out by Blake at third.

That was Milwaukee's only hit off Billingsley the rest of the night. The right-hander struck out five and walked two, but the offense failed to give him any more support.

"It's kind of been our story," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "It's been tough for us to push runs across on any kind of consistent basis."

Game notes
Mattingly said shortstop Dee Gordon (bruised right shoulder) was hitting off a tee and participating in fielding drills but is not throwing. The Dodgers are being cautious with the highly regarded prospect, but he's expected to return as soon as he's eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list on Aug. 25. ... Brewers left-hander Chris Narveson threw his first bullpen as he recovers from a deep cut on his thumb last week. Narveson had eight stitches removed Monday and the Brewers hope he can return in time to start the second half of a doubleheader in Pittsburgh on Aug. 22. ... Brewers right-hander Zack Greinke (11-4, 4.08 ERA) faces right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (1-0, 1.64) on Wednesday night in the third of this four-game series.