Wells made his first big league start a decent one with five scoreless innings, but the bullpen blew its fifth save opportunity of the year, leaving the Cubs with a 3-2 loss to the Brewers on Friday at Miller Park. Ryan Braun hit a two-run homer in the eighth against Aaron Heilman (2-2), adding insult to injury on a night when Aramis Ramirez left the game with a dislocated left shoulder.
Milton Bradley homered in support of Wells, who has not allowed a run in his first 10 1/3 innings in the Major Leagues, and Alfonso Soriano added a sacrifice fly, but Braun's shot turned a 2-1 Cubs lead into a deficit.
"I can't use [Carlos] Marmol and [Kevin] Gregg every night," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said of his bullpen. "Gregg was available to close, but Marmol was very iffy tonight, and we decided to give him a day off and it just didn't quite work out. Leadoff walk. The leadoff walk -- he never came close to throwing a strike to the first hitter."
Heilman walked Corey Hart to start the eighth on four straight pitches, then uncorked a wild pitch on his fifth pitch. On the sixth pitch, Braun swatted an opposite-field shot.
It was an almost identical setup to last year's season finale, when Braun came up in a 1-1 game in the eighth inning and a runner on base. His home run off Bob Howry lifted the Brewers (17-13) into their first postseason in 26 years.
"Not quite as dramatic as the home run last year, but definitely a lot of fun," Braun said. "The energy, the excitement of the crowd was something that made it feel a little bit like last year."
Wells labored initially, stranding four runners on base in the first two innings and throwing 42 pitches in the process. He stranded two more in the sixth but picked up the efficiency, and he finished throwing 84 pitches in five innings, allowing no runs on five hits.
"Some people that have been here before, they advised me to slow down, slow your pace down and make sure you're pitching your pace," Wells said. "I kept telling myself that the whole time, and as hard as I try, it's tough. I get amped up, get that rush and kept trying to throw 100 mph. I wasn't as efficient as I liked. But as far as first starts go in the Major Leagues, I'll take it."
Wells faced the minimum in the fourth and fifth, aided by Ryan Theriot's lunging stop of a Hart grounder, which turned into a double play.
"I got myself in a lot of jams, threw a lot of pitches, a lot of deep counts, but I was able to throw it down enough at times to get some pitches and get out of some tough innings," Wells said. "My whole career I've been labeled a strike thrower, and I didn't really show that tonight. I was behind a lot."
The game was scoreless until the fifth, when Bradley connected for his third home run of the year off Brewers starter Dave Bush, who allowed two runs on four hits in seven frames.
Bobby Scales, a candidate for demotion with the pending arrival of new acquisition Ryan Freel, saw his chances of staying on the team improve when Ramirez left the game in the third. Scales then padded his case with a leadoff triple in the sixth, subsequently scoring on Soriano's deep fly to center. It was Scales' first Major League extra-base hit.
Brewers shortstop J.J. Hardy homered to left-center against reliever Angel Guzman in the sixth to put Milwaukee on the board. The Cubs (16-13) loaded the bases against the Brewers bullpen in the eighth with one out, but Theriot grounded into a force out at the plate, and pinch-hitter Geovany Soto grounded out sharply.
"We had chances there in the eighth inning to put the game away, too, and got nothing," Piniella said.
Mitch Stetter (2-0) won in relief, and Trevor Hoffman notched his fifth save with a 1-2-3 ninth. The Cubs fell to 0-12 when scoring fewer than four runs.
JR Radcliffe is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.