Reds 2, Brewers 1
The silence in the Brewers' clubhouse vividly described their plight. One out away from finishing off an impressive shutout, they let a must-win game slip away.
And probably the postseason, too.
Slumping Todd Frazier hit a tying, two-out homer in the ninth inning, and Dioner Navarro followed with an RBI triple that sent the Cincinnati Reds to a 2-1 victory Thursday and dealt a major setback to the Brewers' playoff chances.
They slipped four games behind idle St. Louis for the final NL wild card with only six games left. They headed home knowing there was little chance the 2011 NL Central champions would still be playing in another week.
''It's a crushing loss,'' closer John Axford said. ''It hurts. It put us all in a tough spot.''
All they needed was one more out from Axford (5-8), who had converted his last 15 save chances. Frazier connected on the first pitch for his first homer since Aug. 21, tying it at 1. Jay Bruce singled and came around on Navarro's triple to deep right-center field, just out of the outfielders' reach.
''It's not like Navarro hit it hard, but exactly to the good point,'' center fielder Carlos Gomez said.
The comeback ended with the Reds' first on-field celebration since they dethroned the Brewers as NL Central champions on Saturday.
Until the ninth inning, the Reds played a like a team that had already clinched, managing only three singles and fanning a dozen times. Axford's rare failure - he's 33 of 42 overall in save chances - provided a stunning finish for the Brewers, who walked off the field slowly with heads down.
There was a sense that it had slipped away.
''Obviously, we'll have to win every game and hope for some help on the other side,'' Axford said.
The Brewers got themselves back into the wild card race by playing their best baseball of the season, winning 24 of 30 as of last weekend. They've started running out of time after losing four of their last six.
The Brewers finish with six at Miller Park against Houston and San Diego. Meanwhile, the Cardinals finish with six at home against Washington and Cincinnati, the two teams vying for the NL's top seed in the playoffs.
The Reds go to Pittsburgh for three games over the weekend. They've been using their regular lineup but doing very little on offense - three runs and 12 hits in the last two games combined.
''Runs are not our worry,'' Frazier said. ''Our worry is figuring out who we'll play in the playoffs.''
Manager Dusty Baker missed his eighth game while recovering from an irregular heartbeat and a mini-stroke. He was at the ballpark before the game. Doctors think he could return to managing on Monday in St. Louis for the start of the final series of the regular season.
Mat Latos, who pitched eight shutout innings during a 6-0 win on Saturday night that clinched the division title, allowed only three this over seven innings, including Gomez's 17th homer leading off the third inning.
Jonathan Broxton (3-1) escaped a two-on threat in the ninth to keep it 1-0.
Milwaukee had another concern as it left town. Rookie starter Wily Peralta came out of the game after throwing a high fastball - his 71st pitch - to fan Latos in the sixth inning. The 23-year-old is considered Milwaukee's top pitching prospect. He allowed only two hits and fanned a career-high six.
Peralta said his biceps started bothering him early in the game.
''It was a little tight,'' the rookie said. ''It started in the second inning a little bit and got worse every time. Until then I got ahead of the hitters, threw strikes and kept the ball down. I'm happy the way I threw today.''
NOTES: The Brewers finished 34-47 on the road. They're 46-29 at Miller Park. ... The Reds went 50-31 at Great American Ball Park, the most wins there in a season. ... Gomez's homer was only the second allowed by Latos in his last six starts, four of them at homer-friendly Great American Ball Park. ... The Reds won the season series against the Brewers 9-6. ... Reds LF Ryan Ludwick was out of the lineup for the seventh consecutive game with a sore groin. ... The Reds drew 2,347,251 at home this season, the second-highest attendance in the ballpark's 10 seasons.
Follow Joe Kay on Twitter: http://twitter.com/apjoekay