CHICAGO – Marco Estrada pitched seven effective innings and doubled home a run Monday, helping the Milwaukee Brewers stop a five-game slide with a 7-4 victory over the Cubs in the first game of the season at Wrigley Field.
With a strong wind blowing out at the start of the game – a rare sight for an April date at the iconic neighborhood ballpark – Estrada allowed two runs and five hits while bouncing back from a lackluster season debut against Colorado. The right-hander also drove in Alex Gonzalez with a drive into the gap in right-center during Milwaukee's two-run seventh.
Norichika Aoki collected three more hits and Ryan Braun had a successful return to the lineup as the Brewers won for the first time since opening day.
Aoki had a career-high four hits in Milwaukee's 8-7 loss to Arizona on Sunday and is batting .588 (10 for 17) in his last four games.
Welington Castillo belted a two-run homer for Chicago, which has dropped four in a row and five of six. Edwin Jackson was hit hard in his first home game since he signed a $52 million, four-year contract over the winter, surrendering five runs and eight hits in six innings.
The Cubs rallied for two runs in the ninth and had the bases loaded when Dave Sappelt struck out and Starlin Castro flew out to the warning track in right to end the game.
Braun, who missed Milwaukee's weekend sweep by Arizona due to spasms on the right side of his neck, went 3 for 4 with two doubles before he was replaced by Logan Schafer in the eighth inning. The 2011 NL MVP has at least one hit in each of his four games this season.
It was Braun's first road game since his name surfaced in records from the now-defunct Biogenesis of America LLC clinic alleged to have provided banned substances to several players. After his name was connected to the clinic, he issued a statement in which he said he used the clinic's operator, Anthony Bosch, as a consultant in appealing a positive drug test that was overturned last year.
Braun was lustily booed by the crowd of 40,083, but he is the best player on one of Chicago's division rivals. And the fans hardly seemed to notice he was at the plate after they got done jeering struggling reliever Carlos Marmol when he came on to pitch the eighth.
The day began with a tarp over the infield as showers rolled through the area, but the grey clouds soon gave way to sunshine for an unusually warm opener at the 99-year-old ballpark. Hall of Famers Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams each threw out a ceremonial first pitch, and Ernie Banks led the crowd in the singing of the "Take Me Out to The Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch.
As soon as Jenkins and Williams left the field, the Brewers jumped all over Jackson (0-2).
With runners on first and second and two down, Jonathan Lucroy and Alex Gonzalez had consecutive walks to force home a run. Martin Maldonado then delivered a bases-clearing double into the right-field corner, lifting Milwaukee to a 4-0 lead.
The Brewers added another run in the second when Aoki reached on a leadoff double and scored on Braun's one-out double to center.
That was more than enough for Estrada (1-0), who struck out six and walked one. He was coming off a no-decision against the Rockies, when he allowed four runs and nine hits in five innings.
NOTES: Brewers SS Jean Segura was sidelined by a bruised left quadriceps. He is day to day. ... Theo Epstein, the president of baseball operations for the Cubs, said he supports manager Dale Sveum's decision to remove Marmol from the closer's role. "He pitched really poorly three times in a row to start the year," Epstein said, "and it was important, I think, for the team to make a change because we need to believe we can win these close games late. That's really important." ... Brewers manager Ron Roenicke was non-committal when asked about his closer before the game. John Axford has allowed six runs and eight hits over 2 2-3 innings covering his first three appearances. "We need to have a discussion with Ax on what we plan to do," Roenicke said. "So I can't really give you an answer until we talk to him." ... Cubs LHP Travis Wood faces RHP Wily Peralta in the second game of the series on Tuesday night.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap