MILWAUKEE -- With four position players and a pitcher who all started the season in the Minor Leagues, it didn't look like the Brewers offense would be able to garner much of any production at all.
Yet with runners on first and second and one out in the ninth, there the Brewers were, down just one run with a chance to win consecutive series for the first time this season.
Unfortunately for the Crew, outfielder Norichika Aoki grounded into a game-ending double play to give the Pirates a 6-5 win, but the fact remained that the Brewers put up a fight in a game manager Ron Roenicke was forced to play a lineup he likely never imagined using when the season started.
"I think it's a tough game to lose, but I really do like the way we played," Roenicke said. "I thought it was a good ballgame. A lot of home runs hit today, a lot of just missed home runs. ... They just did a better job."
Milwaukee, playing without third baseman Aramis Ramirez and left fielder Ryan Braun except for a pinch-hit appearance in the eighth inning, hit three home runs to nearly sneak one past Pittsburgh, which won a series at Miller Park for just the second time in six years.
The effort -- appreciated by Roenicke -- was also noticed by Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.
"That club over there is battling," Hurdle said. "They're a little short-handed. They're still Major League players, but you've got to keep it in perspective. They gave us everything they had."
In the first inning, the Brewers' makeshift lineup showed it would not go away quietly. With two outs third baseman Taylor Green drove in center fielder Nyjer Morgan with a double. The next batter, second baseman Rickie Weeks, brought Green home for an early 2-0 lead.Making his second start for Milwaukee this season, Michael Fiers struck out five of the first 10 batters he faced. And heading into the fifth inning, he was armed with a 2-1 lead.
That's when things appeared to start getting away from the Brewers. With two outs, Fiers gave up a two-run homer to Andrew McCutchen on the ninth pitch of the at-bat. Two pitches later, he surrendered a solo homer to right fielder Garrett Jones to put Pittsburgh ahead 4-2.
"I threw the ball well," said Fiers, who gave up four earned on eight hits in five innings while striking out eight. "The mistakes I made, they were hit hard. And in this game, good hitters, they're going to capitalize on those mistakes."
In the meantime, the Milwaukee bats went cold. After the two-run first, the Brewers went down in order in four straight innings. Pirates starter James McDonald fanned six batters between Weeks' RBI single and the Brewers' next hit, a solo home run from Morgan in the the sixth, which followed a solo homer by Pittsburgh's Rod Barajas in the top of the inning.
Milwaukee continued to make it interesting, as Martin Maldonado hit the first home run of his career in the seventh to bring the Brewers to within one at 5-4. One inning later, the Crew had runners on first and second with two outs, setting up a pinch-hit opportunity for Braun, who said he took some swings in the batting cage during the game to make sure he was healthy enough to hit.
Braun wasted no time trying to put the Brewers ahead, swinging at the first pitch and sending it all the way to the warning track in right field before it was caught.
"I knew I hit it on the barrel and it had a chance," Braun said. "But I didn't think it was going to get out."
The Pirates went back up two runs after John Axford surrendered a homer to Clint Barmes in the ninth, a play that ended up looming large shortly after when Brooks Conrad hit the sixth solo home run of the game to leave Milwaukee one run short of a comeback.
Conrad said it was frustrating to lose a game in which multiple players swung the bat well. But for Braun, despite not wanting to accept a moral victory, he was happy to see many of his teammates rise to the occasion without him and other key players.
"I think you've seen a lot of guys step up who have played well and perform for us," Braun said. "When you have guys hurt, it tests the depth of an organization, and we've had a lot of guys who've come up who have played pretty well. ... Certainly we played well today, just not quite well enough to get the victory."
Jeremy Warnemuende is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.