Axford blows save; Brewers fall farther back

CINCINNATI (AP) — 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.