By Adam McCalvy and Joseph J. DiGiovanni
MILWAUKEE -- Eric Thames is back for the Brewers, just in time to impact the pennant chase. In the top of the eighth inning on Friday night, his power was contagious.
Thames homered for the third straight game, a tiebreaking solo shot that preceded Neil Walker's third career grand slam and Domingo Santana's three-run homer in an eight-run inning. Those swings sent the "visiting" Brewers to a 10-2 win over the Marlins in the opener of a series moved to Miller Park in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
"Strange start to the day, but a pretty good finish," Walker said. "Eric started that inning on the right foot with a home run, and we thought one run there was going to be enough for the rest of the game, the way we were throwing. But you never want to rest on those laurels."
So they didn't. The Brewers sent 11 men to the plate in their big inning, with Thames and Walker connecting against hard-throwing Marlins reliever Brian Ellington, and Santana versus Dustin McGowan.
"On a scale of 1 to 10, that's about a negative-5," Ellington said.
The Marlins, playing as the home team, lost for the 16th time in 18 games while the Brewers won a third straight to keep up with the National League Central-leading Cubs, who lead the division by three games after beating the Cardinals earlier in the day. Milwaukee also stayed within 2 1/2 games of the Rockies in the chase for the second NL Wild Card spot.
"Johnny Wholestaff" improved to 3-0 as the Brewers won for the third time in two weeks with a collection of arms on a limited pitch count, matching a franchise record for a nine-inning game by using eight pitchers. Jeremy Jeffress got the start, the first of his career after 263 relief appearances, and surrendered two runs in two innings before seven relievers held Miami scoreless on two hits. Jared Hughes was awarded the win, and Aaron Wilkerson recorded the final three outs in his Major League debut.
Ellington absorbed the loss after allowing the first six Brewers runs in the decisive eighth inning. Miami pitchers have surrendered 53 runs during the team's six-game skid.
"We wanted to treat this like a big game out of respect for everyone in the league," said Marlins manager Don Mattingly, who was ejected in the eighth inning. "We wanted to play this game with the idea that you have to play your best baseball. That's where the frustration comes."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Sogard's snag: Marlins starter Jose Urena tied the game with a run-scoring bloop single in the second inning, and Miami nearly took the lead when Dee Gordon sent a soft fly ball into left-center field. Brewers shortstop Eric Sogard denied Gordon a hit -- and the Marlins a lead -- by making an acrobatic running catch, reaching out his glove hand at the last possible moment for the final out of the inning, stranding a pair of baserunners. Gordon finished 0-for-4, snapping his career-high hitting streak at 17 games.
"I was shocked that he caught it. I didn't think there was any chance he catches it," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "But when you're using your bullpen the whole game, you're tied, that affects things and who we're thinking about using. It was a huge play."
Running into trouble: The Brewers tried to steal a go-ahead run in the fourth inning to no avail. With runners at the corners and two outs, Brett Phillips stole second base and Thames broke from third on the throw. Thames, though, had to stop halfway home and retreat, drawing an off-target throw that trickled down the baseline. Thinking Thames would head home again, Phillips broke for third, only to get stuck when Thames held the bag. Phillips was an easy out retreating to second base, ending the threat and preserving the tie until the eighth.
"I thought the fans really got into that [eighth] inning. It was one of our best innings of the year. We had 20,000 people here, but it felt like there were more during that inning. That was really cool. The players certainly appreciate it." -- Counsell, on the crowd of 19,369 fans for a game staged on about 48 hours' notice
THAMES BANGED UP
Before the attempted double steal, Thames had reached base when a Urena pitch hit him on the back of the right hand. He was wearing a compression sleeve after the game but hoped to be available when the series continues on Saturday.
"It was pretty scary when it first happened, but luckily I feel like nothing's broken," Thames said. "It started to kind of swell up here a little bit, but the trainers here are proactive about nipping it in the bud."
Mattingly made two trips to home plate amid the Brewers' long rally in the eighth, apparently to dispute Milwaukee catcher Manny Pina's place in the lineup. Pina had singled after entering the game in what home-plate umpire Ryan Additon signalled to the press box was a double switch, but was actually straight-up. Had Pina batted out of order, he would have been out. Instead, the Brewers mounted a big two-out rally that continued with Walker's slam and Santana's three-run homer. After the Brewers made a series of defensive changes in the bottom of the inning, Mattingly returned for another discussion and was ejected.
After the game, crew chief Bill Miller acknowledged the error.
"Ryan wrote them in as a straight change -- catcher into the seventh spot, pitcher into the ninth spot -- then he accidentally made a mistake and signaled the scoreboard and Mattingly that there was a double switch," Miller said. "So, in that situation, obviously we're not going to penalize the Brewers for a mistake that was made by the umpire." More >
WHAT'S NEXT Brewers:Zach Davies has had great success this season pitching on the road, so Saturday's 6:10 p.m. CT game at Miller Park should suit him nicely. The Brewers will again play as the road team, and Davies is 9-2 with a 2.04 ERA in 16 starts when he doesn't take the mound until the bottom of the first inning. He's seeking to become the Brewers' first 18-game winner since Chris Capuano in 2005.
Marlins: Left-hander Adam Conley will try to match his last appearance at Miller Park when he takes the mound at 7:10 p.m. ET on Saturday. Conley threw no-hit ball for 7 2/3 innings before being pulled after 116 pitches on April 30, 2016. He has struggled recently, unable to get through five innings in his two September starts.