MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Brewers returned home after taking a four-game series from the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs, but couldn’t keep that momentum going.

Andrew McCutchen, Jody Mercer and Josh Bell who each drove in two runs and the Pittsburgh Pirates preserved their faint playoff hopes with a 6-3 win over Milwaukee on Tuesday night.

The Brewers had won 11 of 17 since the Pirates’ four-game sweep in Milwaukee at the end of August, including home and away series victory over Cubs.

Brewers manager Craig Counsell didn’t want to hear about a possible letdown from his players.

“That’s part of being a professional,” he said. “That’s how it works. It’s a different atmosphere, but it’s still a competition. There’s certainly a different atmosphere here than at Wrigley Field. But that didn’t have anything to do with it.”

The Pirates won their fifth straight at Miller Park, and fifth of six overall to improve to .500 (75-75) for the first time since they were 69-69 on Sept. 8. Pittsburgh began the day five games behind San Francisco for the second NL wild card spot and St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins in between the Pirates and Giants.

McCutchen’s two-run double in the first staked rookie left-hander Steven Brault to an early lead. Then, Bell’s two-run single in the top of fifth chased starter Matt Garza (5-8).

“We just kind of dug our hole,” Counsell said. “They jumped on Matt early tonight. He settled down a little bit, but we had given up five by that time.”

Garza allowed five runs and eight hits over four innings. He walked two and struck out two while slipping to 1-3 with a 4.66 ERA in four starts against the Pirates this season.

Staked to a 5-2 lead in the bottom of the fifth, Brault walked Jonathan Villar who stole second and moved to third on Orlando Arcia’s base hit. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle made a move to his bullpen and brought in Jared Hughes (1-1) to face Chris Carter.

“It is first and third with nobody out in the fifth,” Hurdle said. “Where we are in the season right now, I felt (Brault) gave us (enough.) It is a sticky situation.”

Carter lined Hughes’ first pitch at third baseman Jung Ho Kang, who fielded the ball cleanly and turned it into a double play that deflated the rally. Hughes struck out Domingo Santana to end the threat.

“We ended up scoring a run, but that’s two outs right there on one pitch,” Carter said. “He ended up (retiring) the next guy. That kind of changed the momentum right there.”

Counsell was even more emphatic.

“That was a big play,” he said. “We had guys on first and second and got to their bullpen. Chris hit a ball hard, and he made a nice play. We battled back, but that was the opportunity we had. That certainly was the play of the game, for sure.”

Wade LeBlanc pitched the sixth which ended on another double play. Juan Nicasio set the side down in order in the seventh. Antonio Bastardo struck out two in the eighth and Tony Watson tossed a perfect ninth for his 14th save in 17 chances.

Brault was making his seventh career start and had already lost twice to the Brewers. He allowed Santana’s run-scoring double in the third and Martin Maldonado’s home run in the fourth. Brault scattered five hits, struck out four, walked two and was three outs from his first major-league win.

Mercer produced run-scoring singles in the fourth and sixth.

Adam Frazier went 3 for 4, scored twice and extended his streak of reaching base safely to 10 straight games for the Pirates.

CHUGGING ALONG

In the third, Carter blooped a two-out base hit and scored on Domingo Santana’s double. At 6-4, 245-pounds, Carter lumbered around the bases and would have been out by a wide margin, but second baseman Sean Rodriguez’s relay bounced once in front of catcher Francisco Cervelli and squirted away. Carter scored standing up.

NEW BREWERS DADS

LF Ryan Braun and C Manny Pina missed the game in order to be with their wives and the newest member of their respective family. Braun’s wife, Larisa, gave birth to a son, Greyson Joseph. Pina’s wife, Leny, gave birth to a daughter, Jimena. However, Pina pinch hit in the ninth and flied out to end the game. Both players were expected back before the weekend.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Pirates: C Chris Stewart underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and is expected to be out six-to-eight weeks. Dr. James Andrews operated on the 34-year-old catcher in Gulf Shores, Florida. … LF Starling Marte missed his 15th consecutive game with low back discomfort.

Brewers: The Brewers selected the contract of C/1B Josmil Pinto from Triple-A Colorado Springs.

UP NEXT

Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (4-3, 3.97 ERA) makes his 12th major-league start. The 24-year-old right-hander is 0-0 with a 2.84 ERA in one career outing against the Brewers.

Brewers: RHP Jimmy Nelson (8-14, 4.42) makes his 10th career start against the Pirates. He is 5-2 with a 3.16 ERA in his previous nine starts, including 1-0 with a 4.80 ERA ibn three starts this season.