CHICAGO – As if their first three games weren't wild enough, the Chicago Cubs found themselves in another one on Monday night.
They were rallying late and they had their best hitter up with the bases loaded, only Starlin Castro couldn't deliver. He struck out and, just like that, the Brewers were exhaling.
Aramis Ramirez drove in two runs, Ryan Braun got booed relentlessly and Milwaukee hung on to beat the Cubs 7-5.
"We're never gonna give up," Bryan LaHair said. "We're going to take every at-bat like it's our last."
The Brewers were sailing along with a four-run lead going into the ninth when things got real interesting. The Cubs scored two and had the bases loaded when John Axford struck out Castro looking on three pitches to end the game.
That ended another wild one for the Cubs, who blew late leads while dropping the first two games to Washington and survived a ninth-inning rally against the Nationals on Sunday. This time, Chicago came up short.
Axford came in with runners on first and third with one out, and Ramirez immediately booted Marlon Byrd's grounder to third, allowing one run to score. A pinch-hitting Steve Clevenger drove a run-scoring single to center that Carlos Gomez misplayed, putting runners on second and third and making it a two-run game.
After David DeJesus struck out, Darwin Barney walked to load the bases, but Axford struck out Castro for his first save.
Shaun Marcum (1-0) settled down after a shaky start and gave up three runs in six solid innings. Rickie Weeks homered to help the Brewers start the four-game series on a winning note after getting pounded twice while dropping two of three at home to St. Louis.
Ramirez got a mixed reaction from fans in a successful homecoming, driving in the game's first run with a sacrifice fly and adding an RBI double in the seventh that made it 6-3.
"It was good for Rami, I know he's fired up," manager Ron Roenicke said. "The adrenaline is a little bit different when you come back home."
That came after Matt Gamel hit a run-scoring triple off Shawn Camp (0-1) and scored in the sixth, breaking a 3-3 tie.
That was enough for Marcum, who gave up solo homers to Barney and LaHair in the first two innings but not much after that.
The reaction for Ramirez was hardly a surprise, considering fans often questioned his effort during his eight-plus seasons in Chicago. Nor was the reception for Braun, who had two hits and scored a run. The reigning NL MVP's potential 50-game suspension for a positive drug test was overturned, but the scar to his reputation figures to linger.
One fan in the left-field bleachers brought a large "Cheater" sign. Another held up one that read "Bonds: 762" on one line with "Braun: MVP" on the second and an asterisk with the word "Cheaters" on the third. Just about everyone let him hear it in his first road game, and he might as well get used to it.
Marcum, meanwhile, looked as if he might not last long in this one, with Barney driving a ball to the left-field basket in the first and LaHair clearing the right-field bleachers to make it 2-1 in the second — Chicago's first homers this season.
"The last couple days, the wind's been really bad and this park's been holding a lot of balls," LaHair said.
Weeks tied it at 2 with a laser off Chris Volstad just inside the left-field foul pole leading off the third, and Alex Gonzalez gave the Brewers a 3-2 lead in the fourth when he doubled and scored from third on Marcum's squeeze.
The Cubs tied it in the fifth, but the Brewers quickly regained the lead, sending old friend Dale Sveum and the Cubs to their third loss in four games.
Volstad, acquired from Miami in the Carlos Zambrano trade, allowed three runs and five hits after the Cubs got dominant starts from Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija against Washington.
"You want to push each other," Volstad said. "I was trying to go out there and do what Jeff did last night. ... As a staff, I think we're feeling pretty good."
Notes: Castro had reached safely in 43 straight games for Chicago dating to Aug. 15 before going 0-for-5. ... Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said Wednesday would be a "logical" day to give OF Corey Hart a day of rest since it's a day game after a night game. Hart had surgery on his right knee in March and left this game in the seventh. ... Chris Narveson starts Tuesday's game for Milwaukee, with Paul Maholm pitching for Chicago.