MILWAUKEE -- The Pirates wanted this one, and it showed.
Thing is, Milwaukee needed it, and that showed, too, with Prince Fielder's two-run walkoff home run in the bottom of the ninth inning that brought the Brewers a 7-5 victory and two delirious celebrations, one at home plate, the other among the 36,612 on hand.
Small wonder: With the New York Mets having won earlier in the evening, the Brewers would have fallen two games behind in the National League wild-card race, perhaps too much to make up with five left.
"That team," Pirates manager John Russell said afterward of the Brewers, "every at-bat they took, every play, you could see how it was important to them."
"These last few games, we really need to win as many as possible," Fielder said. "For me to do that, it was pretty awesome."
- Game: Pirates vs. Milwaukee Brewers, 8:05 p.m., Miller Park.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (9-8, 3.68) vs. LHP CC Sabathia (9-2, 1.81).
- Key matchup: Bill Hall has a .609 career mark against Maholm, 14 for 23 with two home runs, four doubles and seven RBIs.
- Of note: This will be the final televised game of the season. The series finale tomorrow and all three games in San Diego are radio only.
The chance for Milwaukee to exhale came only after a spirited battle that defied these teams' respective place in the standings: Jeff Karstens turned in a quality start and kept the place quiet most of the evening, the Pirates' offense rallied twice from deficits, and the score was 5-5 entering the ninth.
T.J. Beam entered to open that inning and retired his first two batters using sharp fastball command. But Ryan Braun's roller up the middle was muffed by second baseman Freddy Sanchez, though ruled a single.
"I have to make that play," Sanchez said.
Beam then fell behind Fielder, 2-0, but that was fine: First base was open, a right-handed hitter on deck in J.J. Hardy, and Russell had instructed Beam to stick with fastballs and sliders away.
The first two fastballs followed the scripts, but the slider that followed carried right over the heart of the plate and, after Fielder put all of his considerable weight into a roundhouse swing, the ball soared into the seating section high above right-center field.
It was his 34th home run, the second walkoff of his career and, for Milwaukee's emotional leader, it brought a massive welcome as he crossed home.
"The better part was being mobbed by my teammates," he said. "That was pretty cool."
And the pitch?
"If they make a mistake, I go after it."
Beam, who had a 2.37 ERA in 20 appearances since the All-Star break leading into this one, left no doubt it was a mistake.
"We were trying to get to Hardy, and I left that out there when he's sitting on an 0-2 slider," Beam said. "You just have to tip your hat to him."
There was more to this loss ...
Karstens, who lost all six starts after those first two terrific showings, rediscovered some of that form for his season finale: He was charged with three runs -- one earned -- on five hits over six-plus innings, with six strikeouts and a walk.NL wild-card raceTeam
"I had a lot better rhythm," Karstens said. "Tonight, it was me on the rubber ready to pitch instead of the hitter waiting on me."
Trouble was, Karstens' lone walk came to lead off the Milwaukee seventh, with the Pirates ahead, 3-2, and Russell replaced him with Jesse Chavez.
Karstens had thrown only 87 pitches, 62 for strikes.
"It's more the situation," Russell explained of his hook there. "He did a great job. You leave him in, he gets the loss, and it's not such a good note."
After two were aboard with two outs, Chavez got two quick strikes against Mike Cameron, one of them on an ugly swing at a slider in the dirt. One ball later, he tried the same pitch but left it over the plate, and Cameron clubbed a two-run double that put the4 Brewers ahead, 4-3.
Russell was asked if that was a tough spot for a rookie like Chavez. Tyler Yates and Denny Bautista were available.
"Yeah," Russell said. "He made a mistake with the second slider."
Just as the buzz began to settle in the top of the eighth, Doug Mientkiewicz drew a four-pitch walk off Guillermo Mota, and Steve Pearce's second home run put the Pirates back up, 5-4.
But Pearce gave it right back.
With John Grabow pitching in the bottom half, a man at second and two outs, Pearce was slow to react to Jason Kendall's slicer into the right corner, where it landed for an RBI double and a 5-5 tie.
"We had him in shallow to guard against the single with the man on second," Russell said. "And he didn't get a good break."
It was a rough night for the Pirates' outfield all around, including Nate McLouth's first error all season.
In the Milwaukee first, Nyjer Morgan, who had a career-high four hits, allowed Cameron's looping liner to clank off his glove.
After an out, Ryan Braun's drive to deep left-center drew a diving attempt by McLouth, but it caromed off the angled fence back toward right. McLouth had to reverse course about 40 feet to collect the ball, then missed both cutoff men with an off-balance, sidearm fling, allowing Braun to come all the way around.
It was ruled a triple and error.
McLouth, who fielded his first 363 chances cleanly, was one of two error-free center fielders in Major League Baseball with 100-plus starts, along with the Los Angeles Angels' Torii Hunter. McLouth is widely considered a Gold Glove candidate, and this error probably will not affect that, as most voting is believed to be complete.
Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published September 24, 2008 4:00 AM