Rookie DJ LeMahieu, hoping to secure a spot, hit a tie-breaking two-run double and Marlon Byrd smacked a three-run homer to back Matt Garza's complete game and help the Cubs beat the Brewers, 7-1.
Garza (9-10) threw his second complete game of the season in front of a crowd of 30,965, which pushed the Cubs' home attendance to 3,017,966. This is the eighth straight year the ballclub has topped 3 million fans at Wrigley Field.
"Garza is that pitcher you want on the mound every single day," Carlos Pena said of the right-hander, who has not gotten much run support. "When he has a season like this and has nine wins and has really done well, imagine if everything were to click and things go his way? In my mind, he's a Cy Young pitcher waiting to happen."
One thing Garza is still working on is his hitting. Starlin Castro moved one hit closer to 200 for the season, going 2-for-3 with two walks, including an intentional pass in the fifth. He almost didn't get a chance in the eighth.
With one out, Bryan LaHair walked and Garza was up. Cubs manager Mike Quade told the pitcher not to swing to avoid a possible double play so Castro would get an at-bat. But Garza did swing, grounding out.
"It is what it is," Garza said. "I want 20 wins, I want 200 innings, I want 200-plus strikeouts. I was in my mode. I'm going to go out there and compete. I'm not going to give up. That's what it is."
Milwaukee pitcher Mike Fiers then fell behind 3-0 in the count to Castro, who did not have the green light -- not with a six-run lead. That's one of those unwritten rules.
"He did not," Quade said. "Had it been the last game of the season, or something along those lines, [maybe]."
"The game's not even close," Castro said of the situation. "If I swing at that pitch and miss, maybe another pitch is in my back."
Milwaukee took advantage of an error by Castro to take a 1-0 lead in the third. The Brewers had runners at first and second when Corey Hart hit a potential double-play ball to Castro, who tried to backhand flip the ball to Jeff Baker at second. But the toss pulled Baker off the bag, and a run scored. It was Castro's 28th miscue, the most in the Majors this season by a shortstop, and the most by a Cubs player since Keith Moreland made 28 errors in 1987.
Castro redeemed himself in the Chicago third when he hit an RBI single, driving in LaHair, who had doubled.
Alfonso Soriano singled to open the Cubs' fifth, and two outs later, Castro was intentionally walked to set up LeMahieu's two-run double.
"It didn't surprise me," Quade said of the walk to Castro. "I sure was glad DJ made them pay."
Jeff Baker and Geovany Soto both singled in the sixth, and Byrd followed with his home run off Randy Wolf (13-10), which opened a 6-1 lead. Wolf was hit on the left forearm and said it affected his cutter. That's the pitch Byrd hit.
"He punished it," Wolf said.
Garza was going to finish the game no matter what.
"I saw [James] Russell get up [in the bullpen in the ninth], and it [ticked] me off," Garza said. "I had a six-run lead, I'll give up five before I come out of this thing. I finished it off."
Said Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke: "I've seen him like this before. He's got great stuff. He's got an electric fastball, a great slider, curveball and a nice changeup. When he's on, these are the results that I usually see."
The Cubs finished 39-42 at home, with six games remaining on the road at St. Louis and San Diego. This may have been the last home game for Aramis Ramirez, whose agent told interim general manager Randy Bush that the third baseman will test the free-agent market. Who knows whether Quade will still be manager? That's up to the new GM.
"We're going to play today and I'm going to be back," Quade said before the game. "That's the way I look at things. There's no other way to look at it."
Stay tuned. Opening Day is April 5, 2012, at Wrigley Field.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.