MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Brewers have blown a lot of leads this year, and Francisco Cordero had to face two of the Houston Astros best hitters in Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee with the game on the line.
It was no problem for Cordero, who retired the Houston sluggers to set a franchise record with his 40th save, as the Brewers beat the Astros 5-3 on Tuesday night.
The victory pulled Milwaukee within one-half game of the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central.
"It's nice, but really I'm not here for a record," Cordero said. "What we're trying to do is win the division and go to the playoffs."
Houston interim manager Cecil Cooper appeared to anger Cordero at the beginning of the ninth inning when he asked home plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth to check for "a band" on the closer's pitching arm.
Nothing was found and Cordero promptly fired the first pitch at the feet of Mike Lamb, forcing the Astros batter to quickly skip out of the way as the ball hit the backstop.
"Sometimes they do that to put something in your mind in a close game, to see whether you can handle a situation like that," Cordero said. "But I don't think about that."
Was Cordero trying to send a message to Cooper?
"Not really," he said. "If I want to hit somebody, I'm sure I can do it, and I'm going to do it real good. It was just a pitch that slipped away from me."
Houston put runners on first and second, but Cordero struck out Berkman and got Lee to ground out as Milwaukee managed to hold on after leading 4-1, one day after blowing a three-run lead in a 9-7 loss to Houston. It was the major league-leading 15th time the Brewers blew a lead of at least three runs.
"The quicker you can put it behind you the better off you will be," said rookie Ryan Braun, who hit his 27th home run. "It's not going to do any good to dwell on it or be upset about it."
Carlos Villanueva pitched six solid innings in his first start as a member of the Brewers' rotation. His outing ruined the comeback of Houston's Brandon Backe, making his first start in more than a year after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery.
"It's just an average outing, I guess, to me," Backe said. "It definitely didn't go the way I dreamt it would go. Every time I go out there, I think I can go seven innings and give up two runs, but that's obviously not going to happen every time. I'm not upset, but I'm not pleased as well."
Cordero pitched the ninth to earn his 40th save in 46 chances, topping the franchise record of 39 set by Dan Kolb (2004) and Derrick Turnbow (2005).
Villanueva (7-3) pitched in relief most of the season, making one spot start in June to go with 52 relief appearances. With injuries to starters Claudio Vargas and Manny Parra, he was inserted into the rotation after starting two games at Triple-A Nashville, where he was limited to about 60 pitches.
It took the right-hander 95 pitches to get through six innings in which he gave up one run on five hits and two walks while striking out a career-high six.
Scott Linebrink allowed two unearned runs in the seventh and Brian Shouse pitched the eighth.
Backe (0-1) underwent surgery on Sept. 7, 2006, and made his first appearance in a major league game since Aug. 18, 2006. He pitched 5 2/3 innings, giving up four runs, three earned, on eight hits and three walks.
Braun's solo home run in the first landed in the Brewers' bullpen and gave Milwaukee the lead it never lost.
Milwaukee made it 2-0 in the second, when Villanueva reached on a fielder's choice and moved to second on a walk to Rickie Weeks. Gabe Gross reached on an infield single, just beating the throw to first by second baseman Chris Burke.
Villanueva had gotten past third on the play, and Astros first basemen Lance Berkman's throw to the base got past Ty Wigginton for an error, allowing the Brewers' pitcher to score.
Burke hit his fifth home run of the year in the third to make it 2-1, but the Brewers added two more in the fifth when Gross singled and scored on Corey Hart's double, and Geoff Jenkins added an RBI single.
Houston scored a pair of unearned runs in the seventh. Second baseman Weeks booted an Eric Munson grounder for his second error of the game and Hunter Pence drove him in with a single. Burke then singled and Berkman walked to load the bases, before Carlos Lee hit into a fielder's choice to make it 4-3.
Braun scored on Johnny Estrada's sacrifice fly in the bottom half of the inning to give Milwaukee a 5-3 lead.
- With the victory, the Brewers have a 10-3 edge in the season series. It's the first time Milwaukee will win a season series with the Astros since it joined the NL in 1998.
- The Brewers acquired LHP Ray King from the Washington Nationals for a player to be named.