One misread signal led to one of the worst outings of starter Marco Estrada's career.
By ANDREW GRUMANFS Wisconsin
MILWAUKEE —Marco Estrada's body language screamed of frustration out on the mound Sunday afternoon. Afterwards, that frustration was mixed with anger as the right-hander's inability to help his team snap its losing streak was eating away at him in the home clubhouse.
Estrada lasted just 3-1/3 innings, allowing eight earned runs while walking five in Milwaukee's 10-1 loss to St. Louis, giving the Cardinals their first ever four-game sweep of the Brewers.
"It was one of the worst outings of my career," Estrada said. "I had no idea where the ball was going. It started off pretty good early. Even though I gave up a couple of hits, I felt pretty good. Next thing you know, I made a lot of pitches in the second inning and I couldn't find it after that. It was just one of those outings where I had no clue what I was doing up there. I felt lost. It was a bad outing."
Walks aren't usually a problem for Estrada. He entered Sunday with just seven for the season and had never walked more than three in an outing in his career.
But what bothered Estrada the most was a simple mistake that may have opened the flood gates for the Cardinals in the second inning. Because there was a runner on second base, Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy went out to the mound to inform Estrada they were changing to another set of signs.
For some reason, Estrada forgot they had switched signs and thought Lucroy called for a curveball on a 3-1 count with two outs and the bases loaded for Shane Robinson, a light hitting backup outfielder who entered with a .192 batting average.
Clearly it wasn't a situation to throw a curveball, and Estrada bounced it, walking in a run. St. Louis eventually scored five more runs when a better pitch possibly could have ended the inning.
"I didn't get the right sign, I screwed up," Estrada said. "We switched signs and I kept it to where I thought it was the signs we were using before. Luc didn't call a curveball, and I screwed it up. That was dumb. Just mental mistakes you can't do.
"It just pissed me off. Not only did I walk the guy, I walked him on a curveball that shouldn't have been thrown. It was just frustrating. It was really frustrating being out there today. It drives me nuts knowing we needed a good outing by one of our starters. We were down 3-0 in the series and I wanted to go out and just give it my best today. Not being able to do that today just kills me right now."
Just like the three previous games in the series, St. Louis took advantage of each mistake the Brewers made. If Milwaukee opened the door even slightly, the Cardinals pounced.
"They are a good team, man," Lucroy said. "Their lineup is pretty stacked. They have guys that have been there and done that, as far as having success. They've won a championship recently. Guys know what it takes to go out there and get big hits and have good at-bats when they need it."
Right now, St. Louis is a team firing on all cylinders. With the best rotation in baseball thus far, a potent offense and a bullpen that seems to be figuring it out, the Cardinals look like the team to beat in the division.
Milwaukee is just 1-6 against St. Louis the season, leading to the question being asked of Roenicke if his team can compete with the Cardinals this season.
"When we are playing good baseball and everything is working well, I feel like we can play with anybody," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "But everything has to go right. Our pitching certainly needs to get us deeper in games. We need to command the ball a lot better than what we did."
Streaky may be the best word to describe the Brewers' season. After a 2-8 start, Milwaukee rattled off nine wins in a row and 12 wins in 15 games to go to 14-11. Now they've lost five in a row to fall two games under .500.
Inconsistency across the board is usually an explanation for a streaky team, and the Brewers fit the bill.
"That makes it difficult," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "It's hard when you see the type of ball that we played during the one time we were playing well and we turn around and put together a series like we just did. I don't think we played bad all four games, but it's tough to lose four games at home the way we usually play here.
"It was a bad series. We play bad series. We don't do it too often at home, but we do. We've been playing good ball, came in and played two good games here and two bad games. But it was a bad series overall."
The schedule isn't too forgiving in the near future, either. After an off day Monday, Texas comes in for two games before the Brewers head out on a road trip that includes stops in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and St. Louis.
But the consensus in the clubhouse after getting swept away by the rival Cardinals was that Monday's off day comes at a perfect time.
"You forget about it," Estrada said of the sweep. "I think the good thing is we have an off day tomorrow. It's in my head right now and I'm sure it's in a lot of guys heads that we just got swept in a pretty crucial series. You try to go out and try to forget about it, that's all you can do. I'm going to look back and see why I felt the way I did today, but after I figure out what I did wrong, I'm going to forget about it."