Locked in a battle with another first-place team, the Milwaukee Brewers fought back the game’s best closers only to make a couple of crucial mistakes in the ninth inning to cost them a series win on the road.
After putting together a rally and tying the game against Nationals closer Rafael Soriano in the top of the ninth, the Brewers ran themselves out of a potential opportunity to take the lead on a botched double steal.
In the bottom of the ninth, left fielder Khris Davis airmailed the cutoff man on a two-out double by Jayson Werth off reliever Rob Wooten, allowing Anthony Rendon to score the winning run without a throw in Washington’s 5-4 victory at Nationals Park.
The loss dropped the Brewers out of first place in the National League Central for the first time since April 5. Milwaukee would move back into a tie for the top spot in the division if St. Louis loses Sunday night to the Dodgers.
"We need to quit making so many mistakes," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "We’re not always going to swing the bat great, we’re not always going to pitch great, but we should be able to make solid plays. We need to do that. In close ball games, that’s what it comes down to.
"You may lose a game because a guy hits a home run or a double, but if you do things right, a lot of those things don’t come up. If we do things right (Sunday), maybe Frankie (Francisco Rodriguez) is in that ballgame with a one-run lead and Wooten is not in there."
After falling behind 1-0, the Brewers used some aggressive baserunning to build a 3-1 lead and chase Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez from the game after just 3 1/3 innings.
However, Yovani Gallardo couldn’t hold the lead, as the right-hander surrendered a two-run home run to Ryan Zimmerman in the fourth to tie the game at 3-3. The Nationals took a 4-3 lead later in the inning, as Gallardo allowed a two-out double to backup catcher Jose Lobaton and a single to reliever Craig Stammen before the go-ahead run scored on a wild pitch.
"I thought his stuff was good," Roenicke said of Gallardo. "I thought he threw some great curveballs. He hangs the one and gave up the two-run home run. I thought his stuff was pretty good. They do a good job battling. Once in a while you hope you get away with some mistakes and he didn’t."
Usually it is a good thing to chase the starting pitcher in the fourth inning, but Washington features one of the best bullpens in baseball. The Brewers didn’t put much of anything together against Stammen, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard but did get to Soriano, who hadn’t allowed a run since June 10.
A one-out single in the ninth from pinch-hitter Scooter Gennett and a walk to Carlos Gomez put two on for Rickie Weeks, who singled to center to score pinch-runner Logan Schafer to tie the game at 4-4.
With Ryan Braun up and the go-ahead run on second base, Gomez took off on his own and would have easily stole third base. Weeks followed behind but was thrown out at second base for the second out of the inning.
The out at second base proved costly when Braun lofted what would have been a deep enough fly ball to score Gomez from third base.
"We did a nice job of coming back and tying it, but we let an opportunity to go," Roenicke said. "When you have a chance to steal a base with Gomez there and with Brauny up, you feel like you are going to score another run.
"It is (Weeks’) job to watch that guy in front of him and get a good jump."
With Rendon on first base and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Werth hit a fastball from Wooten down the line and into the left-field corner. Davis, who does not have a good throwing arm, launched the ball over the cut-off man leaving the Brewers with no play at the plate.
Not only did Davis miss the cut-off man, but the Brewers weren’t set up correctly for the relay to the plate.
"If he cuts the cutoff man he’s out," Roenicke said. "There should be somebody behind Seggy too. So if he overthrows it you always have a second guy there."