CHICAGO -- Matt Garza was oh, so close.
With two outs and two strikes on Brewers pinch-hitter Norichika Aoki in the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs right-hander got a comebacker to the mound. Garza fielded, turned and fired the ball ... into the stands.
"I saw [Cubs first baseman Bryan] LaHair go and I went, 'Son of a gun,'" Garza said.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum exited the dugout, replacing Garza after 119 pitches and 8 2/3 shutout innings -- one out away from what would have been the Garza's first shutout since his July 2010 no-hitter.
Garza left the field angry, screaming at himself as he made his way from the dugout to the clubhouse.
"Like I said last time, what I start I intend to finish and I was one out away," Garza said. "Yeah, we won, that's the plus side. But, [darn] ... oh, well."
The Cubs did, indeed, win, as Garza's gem and a six-run third-inning led to an 8-0 victory at Wrigley Field as the Cubs avoided a four-game sweep at the hands of the Brewers.
"We got it. Unfortunately, we might have just witnessed the greatest, yet worst throw of all-time," Sveum said with a laugh. "It's unfortunate the ball slips out of your hand at that point, but I just couldn't let him go and have another 10-pitch at-bat."
While the 36,311 in attendance booed Sveum when he lifted Garza -- who struck out nine and scattered three hits -- Sveum said the right-hander was "in complete shock" and not mad about being taken out.
"I can't be [ticked] off at skip," Garza said. "120 pitches in, there's no reason to be throwing 130, 140. I'm [ticked] at myself but, man, we played one [heck] of a game."
While Garza led the way on the mound, his battery mate led the way at the plate. Backup catcher Steve Clevenger went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles, the first of which ignited the six-run third.
Clevenger led off with a soft double down the left-field line -- the Cubs' first hit of the game -- and Reed Johnson followed with an RBI single to center. After Garza struck out on three failed bunt attempts, the top of the Cubs' order rattled off five straight singles to break open the game.
Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro knocked out consecutive RBI singles after David DeJesus singled up the middle and Alfonso Soriano followed by reaching out and poking a 2-2 slider from Brewers starter Zack Greinke (1-1, 6.75) into right for a two-run single.
Ian Stewart also added an RBI single before Greinke got LaHair to ground into an inning-ending double play.
"It's very important, especially with Greinke out there on the mound, to get up early and when you can get a run, get a run," Clevenger said. "We swung the bat well today, especially with runners in scoring position."
That run support was more than enough for Garza.
After allowing a single and walk in the first inning, Garza sat down 15 of the next 16 batters, until Brewers center fielder Nyjer Morgan singled in the seventh inning.
"Once they got the lead by a sizable amount, he was dialed in," Morgan said. "That's the best I've ever seen him. Throwing everything for strikes, and the ones that weren't were nibbling. They were close pitches. He was electric."
Garza allowed only one more hit after that seventh-inning single and recorded his final four outs via strikeout.
"He threw the ball really well," Clevenger said. "He controlled the inside part of the plate and the outside part of the plate. His command was awesome today and he threw everything for strikes."
The Cubs added their final two runs in the fourth. Clevenger once again began the inning with a double down the line, but was nearly stranded after Greinke struck out Johnson and Garza. With DeJesus in the hole, 1-2, Greinke induced a grounder up the middle just to the left of second base and appeared to be out of the inning.
Brewers shortstop Alex Gonzalez ranged over, fielded and threw to first base, but Milwaukee's Mat Gamel wasn't around. Gonzalez's throw sailed over an empty bag as he was charged with an error, allowing Clevenger to score and DeJesus to advance to second.
"I thought it got through," Gamel said.
Asked whether he said anything to Greinke, Gamel responded, "What am I supposed to say?"
Greinke was lifted after a two-out walk to Barney, and Castro hit another RBI single off Brewers lefty Manny Parra before the inning was over.
The Cubs now travel to St. Louis to begin a three-game series with the Cardinals, who on Friday will play their home opener and celebrate their 2011 World Series championship. Despite the rivalry between the two clubs, Sveum said his team will show the Cardinals respect during the ceremony.
"There's got to be one team every year that wins it and gets the rings and raises the banner. You give everybody the respect they deserve," Sveum said. "They're the best in the world right now, they're the best team in baseball. They're the world champions."