By Chris Jenkins/The Associated Press
MILWAUKEE — The barbs already were flying. Come Sunday, the Milwaukee Brewers bashed the St. Louis Cardinals with their bats.
Needing a rally in the NL championship series opener, Milwaukee turned to its power duo of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, then got a clutch hit from Yuniesky Betancourt to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 9-6.
Braun launched a two-run, 463-foot homer in the first inning and added a two-run double during a six-run burst in the fifth. Fielder hit a two-run homer and the typically light-hitting Betancourt added a two-run homer to cap the big comeback.
At least for one game, the bitter NL Central rivals avoided any on-field confrontations in their first postseason matchup since the 1982 World Series.
That’s despite an already tense atmosphere that gained some steam when Brewers starter Zack Greinke let it slip on Saturday that some of his teammates don’t like the Cardinals’ Chris Carpenter — a comment that drew a stern rebuke from Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.
The atmosphere was tense even before the first pitch, as La Russa was showered with boos during pregame introductions. He calmly tipped his cap to the crowd.
Greinke struggled, but reliever Takashi Saito got Cardinals star Albert Pujols to ground into a key double play in the seventh. Francisco Rodriguez pitched a hitless eighth and closer John Axford threw a hitless ninth for a save.
Game 2 is at Miller Park on Monday night. Shaun Marcum starts for the Brewers against Edwin Jackson.
David Freese hit a three-run homer off Greinke in the fourth, and the Cardinals led 5-2 in the fifth.
But Milwaukee made it tough on Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia, who left after giving up Fielder’s homer. Garcia, who hit Fielder with a pitch earlier in the game, gave up six runs and six hits in four-plus innings with three walks. He took the loss.
Greinke earned the win despite his uneven outing, giving up six runs and eight hits in six-plus innings. He left the game to a standing ovation after giving up a leadoff single to Rafael Furcal in the seventh.
The Cardinals took a three-run lead into the fifth before Garcia allowed a leadoff single to Corey Hart and a double to Jerry Hairston Jr. Braun hit a two-run, ground-rule double to right and with the crowd still saluting him, Fielder hit the first pitch from Garcia deep to right for a two-run homer, giving the Brewers the lead.
Fielder then showed off his repertoire of celebrations, giving the team’s “Beast Mode” gesture upon his arrival at home plate and exchanging mock knockout blows with Braun as he trotted back to the dugout.
That was it for Garcia, who left with no outs in the fifth and his team down 6-5. It that wasn’t the end of trouble for the Cardinals, though.
Reliever Octavio Dotel fielded Rickie Weeks’ grounder and threw the ball away, allowing Weeks to go to second on the error.
Betancourt — who batted .252 in the regular season with 13 homers — then sent a 2-1 pitch from Dotel deep to left, where it flew into the Brewers’ bullpen and was fielded on the fly by Milwaukee bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel. Hanel pumped his fist, Betancourt circled the bases and the crowd continued its inning-long eruption.
With the score 8-5, Pujols came to the plate with runners on first and third and no outs in the seventh. Pujols broke his bat on a double-play grounder — a run scored, but the Brewers had limited the damage.
Betancourt doubled in the seventh and scored on a single by Jonathan Lucroy.
The Brewers and Cardinals split an 18-game series evenly this season, a sign of what has been one of baseball’s most intense rivalries in recent years. The Cardinals’ success against the Brewers in the final month of the season was one of the main reasons they climbed back into playoff contention.
St. Louis won six of its last seven games against Milwaukee, including a three-game sweep at Miller Park.
The animosity between the two teams spilled into this week, when Greinke told reporters Saturday that some of his teammates don’t like Carpenter because of his “phony attitude.”
Greinke got off to a shaky start in Game 1, issuing a one-out walk to Jon Jay in the first and a single to Pujols. After striking out Lance Berkman, Matt Holliday hit an RBI single.
Milwaukee answered right away. After Hairston walked, Braun homered deep into the left field stands, circling the bases as the crowd chanted “M-V-P!”
Garcia then hit Fielder in the shoulder, sending the Brewers’ big man to first base and the rest of Milwaukee’s bench to the top step of the dugout to show their disgust.
Berkman beat a defensive shift with a soft single to lead off the fourth, and Greinke issued a one-out walk to Yadier Molina. Freese hit what initially appeared to be an easy fly to right center field, only to see the ball carry over the fence for a 4-2 lead.
After Furcal led off the fourth with a double, Fielder made an impressive play to field a sharp grounder by Jay and throw to Greinke for the out at first. Furcal went to third on the play and Pujols came to the plate with one out. Pujols struck out but Lucroy dropped the ball and had to throw Pujols out at first — and he nearly threw the ball away.
Berkman’s single made it 5-2.
NOTES: Jackson struggled in his first outing with the Cardinals against the Brewers, giving up 10 runs (eight earned) in seven innings at Milwaukee Aug. 3. But he was better in two subsequent starts against the Brewers, allowing four runs (three earned) in 13 innings. … Marcum is coming off a rough outing in the Brewers’ Game 3 NL division series loss at Arizona, giving up seven runs in 4 2-3 innings … Sunday’s attendance was 43,613.