By Todd Rosiak, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel –
CINCINNATI — Though it took a little longer than expected to see the payoff, Ron Roenicke’s gamble eventually paid off Wednesday afternoon.
The Milwaukee Brewers’ manager pulled starter Zack Greinke at only 98 pitches for a pinch hitter in the top of the seventh inning to try to exploit a two-on, nobody-out situation in a three-run game, only to see the potential rally completely fizzle.
But this time the Brewers’ bullpen stepped into the breach and picked up the slack, limiting a dangerous Cincinnati Reds lineup to just two runs — only one of them meaningful — over the final three innings.
Milwaukee padded its lead in the ninth before finally leaving Great American Ball Park with an 8-4 victory, snapping a four-game losing streak and salvaging the last of its three-game series with the Central Division leaders.
“We needed it,” said Roenicke, whose team is 71/2 games in back of Cincinnati. “We needed to win this game. We’re getting too far behind, we’re not playing the way that we want to play.”
Greinke improved to 9-2 after scattering six hits, two earned runs and a walk while striking out three. He was far from the dominant Greinke who shut out the Chicago White Sox over nine innings in his previous start, but he was plenty good enough.
He was staked to a quick lead in the second inning when Corey Hart tripled off the wall in right-center and Rickie Weeks homered to straightaway center.
It was Weeks’ first homer since May 26 in Arizona, and it gave the Brewers their first lead since they were up, 6-4, in the sixth inning against the Chicago White Sox on Saturday.
Milwaukee tacked on a run in the third when Aramis Ramirez singled home Norichika Aoki.
The Reds came back with a run in the bottom of the third, when Brandon Phillips singled home Chris Heisey to make it 3-1. In reality, Heisey shouldn’t have even been on base, but Nyjer Morgan misplayed his sinking liner into a double in right field.
A two-run homer to left by Cody Ransom in the top of the fourth made it 5-1, and Ryan Ludwick hit a solo homer to left in the bottom half to pull the Reds to within 5-2.
Greinke retired the Reds in order in the fifth and the sixth, and came to the plate in the seventh after Ransom led off with a walk and Carlos Gomez doubled him to third.
With Greinke sitting at 98 pitches, having doubled in his previous at-bat, and the Brewers’ bullpen struggling mightily, Roenicke chose to try to break the game open and pulled him in favor of pinch hitter Taylor Green.
Green walked, loading the bases with nobody out. But just as quickly as they came together, things fell apart.
Aoki struck out on a check swing and Morgan followed by failing to get down a bunt on a suicide squeeze with Ransom coming home. Ransom was an easy second out, and Morgan ended the inning by popping out to second.
“The only way we were going to do it was if it was second and third, no outs,” Roenicke said. “Anything else and Zack was going to stay in the game. First and third, he was going to stay in the game. It was a tough call.”
Greinke said he understood Roenicke’s reasoning.
“I figured it was possible,” he said. “It was pretty much the only way it could have happened, but I just had one inning left. We get a couple runs, it makes it really comfortable to finish the game. But their pitcher did a good job stopping us.”
Kameron Loe relieved Greinke and pitched a 1-2-3 seventh. He was followed by Francisco Rodriguez, who, while battling leg cramps, got himself into a major crisis by putting the first two batters on for the ever-dangerous Joey Votto.
Votto then brought the crowd of 28,906 to its feet with a long drive to right, but Morgan camped under it for the out. Miguel Cairo followed with an RBI groundout to make it 5-3 and bring up longtime Brewers killer Jay Bruce.
Bruce smoked a one-hopper to Weeks, who gloved it and threw to first, where Hart made a nice catch to end the threat.
“(Weeks) did a great job today,” Roenicke said. “Made a great play in a big spot. He doesn’t come up with that play on Bruce, it could be a different ball game.”
Milwaukee took full advantage of a wild ninth from Cincinnati’s Jose Arredondo, who surrendered a pinch-hit RBI single to Travis Ishikawa and then issued a pair of bases-loaded walks to Ramirez and Hart to make it 8-3.
Livan Hernandez surrendered Ludwick’s second homer of the game in the ninth, but shut things down from there.
After having managed just four runs and seven hits in the first two games, the Brewers doubled their previous run output and racked up 11 hits on Wednesday.
“The offense was good today; we could have piled on more runs than we did, but at least we had tons of opportunities and lots of base runners,” Roenicke said. “With Zack pitching well, that was big for us.”