By Todd Rosiak, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel –
MILWAUKEE — The record will show the Milwaukee Brewers defeated the San Diego Padres, 6-5, Sunday afternoon at Miller Park to clinch a winning homestand.
But there wasn’t a whole lot of celebrating and backslapping going on in the clubhouse afterward. Not after the near-miss they’d just endured.
Leading, 6-2, and needing only two outs to clinch what should have been a feel-good victory, the Brewers’ bullpen instead suffered a ninth-inning meltdown.
Closer John Axford gave up a run-scoring single and walked in a run to make it 6-4. He was then replaced by Jose Veras, who walked in another run before striking out John Baker looking with the bases loaded to allow the Brewers and their sellout crowd of 43,021 to finally exhale.
“Another game that was hard to enjoy at the end,” said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke. “Good thing we came out winning it, but we shouldn’t let a game get away like that.”
The Brewers didn’t look as if they’d be winning anything early as they had more errors than hits — 2 to 1 — heading into the sixth inning facing a 2-0 deficit. The fifth inning was about as bad as it gets, as Edwin Maysonet, Yovani Gallardo and Corey Hart all struck out looking against Padres starter Anthony Bass.
But as he’s done so often lately, Norichika Aoki got things going with a leadoff infield single. He then stole second, cruised into third when Baker’s throw to second went into center field and scored on Ryan Braun’s single to center.
Bass retired Aramis Ramirez and Taylor Green next, bringing ice-cold Rickie Weeks to the plate. Bass walked him on four pitches to bring Martin Maldonado to the plate, and the rookie catcher made him pay on the very next offering by smashing a three-run home run just over the wall in straightaway center field to give Milwaukee a 4-2 lead.
Braun added a two-run homer the next inning off reliever Brad Brach, and suddenly the Brewers were comfortably ahead, 6-2.
“Great job with Maldonado, and ‘Braunie’ adding on the two at the end was big,” Roenicke said. “We get people on base, somebody needs to drive one, and we did. That was certainly why we won this ball game.”
Gallardo, who pitched seven innings to improve to 5-5, made way for Francisco Rodriguez in the eighth. “K-Rod” did his job and then handed the ball to Axford for the ninth.
Axford, who had pitched just twice on the nine-game homestand to that point — two innings three days earlier and one on June 3 — struck out Everth Cabrera looking to start things off.
Then the roof began to cave.
Chris Denorfia singled to right, Will Venable chopped a double over Hart’s head at first base and Logan Forsythe walked. Just like that, the bases were loaded for No. 3 hitter Chase Headley, who on cue delivered a single to right to score Denorfia and make it 6-3.
Carlos Quentin followed with a seven-pitch walk, scoring Venable, and Axford’s day was done after 37 pitches.
“The first three guys I face: strikeout, broken bat and chopper double that apparently hit a brick in front of home plate or something,” said Axford. “The walks is really what hurt. Other than that, I felt good. Just getting a little tired toward the end.”
Roenicke believes Rodriguez and Axford both are sharper when they pitch regularly. With the Brewers struggling, that hasn’t been happening as much.
“We got him in the game again because we didn’t feel he was getting enough work, so he was going to pitch today regardless,” he said. “It seems like when we go a long time without throwing these guys, we have command issues.”
Veras, usually one of the Brewers’ seventh-inning options, opened by throwing six consecutive curveballs to slugger Yonder Alonso, eventually striking him out looking. But then Veras walked pinch-hitter Jesus Guzman on four pitches, plating Forsythe to make it 6-5 and keeping the bases loaded.
He went back to the curveball again with Baker at the plate and appeared to strike him out on a check swing on a 2-2 count, but it was ruled he didn’t offer and the count went full.
So Veras threw one final curveball that froze Baker, saving his first game in nearly a year, not to mention the series for the Brewers.
“I saw the swing and I said, ‘We got him,’ but the guy behind the plate was a little tight today — you could see it with every pitcher,” Veras said of the check swing. “We made the decision to throw another pitch better than that one to finish the inning, and we got it.”
The Brewers finished their homestand with a 5-4 record — OK, but not as good as could have been expected considering they came in on the heels of a four-game road sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“Definitely not successful enough for us,” said Axford. “We wanted to win more than that. Obviously coming away with more wins than losses is fantastic; since the Dodgers series we are in the win column more than the loss column, which is great.
“We played some teams here that we thought we could pick up a couple more games on, but at least we still ended up on top (overall).”