MILWAUKEE — Entering the bottom of the ninth up 6-4 and with the bottom of the Brewers order due up against Cardinals closer Edward Mujica, the last thing you would have imagined was former Brewers pitcher John Axford coming on to save the day. That would be too cheesy for even Hollywood to script.
Yet there he was, six batters later, with the Cards’ lead cut to 6-5 and the bases loaded, being serenaded in by a chorus of boos from what remained of over 37,000 Brewers fans at Miller Park.
He wouldn’t be able to salvage the game for St. Louis after Aramis Ramirez drove in the tying run on an infield squibber, but did the next best thing, forcing Carlos Gomez into an inning-ending double play and sending the game into extra innings.
“I don’t know if you ever like to see those guys come in in that situation, but we caught a break with Aramis with the chopper and then Gomey get a curveball he likes and he hits it right at the third baseman,” Ron Roenicke said. “It’s the last thing we thought that Gomez would hit into a double play.”
Axford (7-7) would wind up getting the win after the Cardinals scored in the top of the tenth to make it 7-6 and take a two-game lead in the NL Central Division over Cincinnati and Pittsburgh with just over a week to go in the season.
All in all, Roenicke was pleased with his team’s performance, particularly battling back in the bottom of the ninth to force extra frames.
“I think we played a really good game and we lost, that’s what I think,” he noted.
Bullpen letdown: Up 4-2 going into the bottom of the seventh it looked as if Milwaukee would continue playing its spoiler role well. As has been the case too often of late, though, the bullpen had other ideas.
Michael Gonzalez came in to pitch the seventh but left nine pitches later having given up a single and two doubles and allowing two earned runs in only 1/3 of an inning. Just like that the Brewers’ lead was gone.
Brandon Kintzler got off to a rough start in the eighth inning with runners at the corners and only one out. Jim Henderson came in to keep the peace, striking out two batters to end the innings.
The next two batters were a different story. Henderson walked Matt Holliday before giving up a towering home run to Matt Adams. It was the fifth long ball given up by Henderson in his last ten appearances.
After getting a reprieve by Milwaukee’s offense in the form of two ninth-inning runs, the Brewers pen once again couldn’t hold the lead. Michael Blazek, facing his former team, gave up one walk, one hit and the game-winning run in his one inning of work in the tenth.
In total the Brewers bullpen combined to give up five runs and nine hits in five innings.
Hellweg survives: It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure, but Johnny Hellweg threw just well enough to avoid losing his fourth game in four starts at Miller Park.
The Pacific Coast League pitcher of the year didn’t have great command and allowed the leadoff batter to reach base each of his five innings pitched, but made some clutch double-play inducing pitches to prevent any real damage.
No inning exemplified this like the fifth. Hellweg plunked the leadoff hitter and it happened to be Cardinals’ pitcher Shelby Miller. After inducing a flyout, another walk and a single scored one and cut the Brewers lead to 3-2. Another walk loaded the bases and got Milwaukee’s bullpen stirring.
“I thought he did a nice job,” Roneicke said of Hellweg. “He also got ground balls when he needed them and got double plays. That’s what he does. He’s going to give up walks but he gets so many ground balls that you get a chance to get some double plays. We got three.”
Having already walked three players in the inning, Hellweg got behind 2-0 on Yadier Molina before getting him to bite on a high pitch and ground-out into an inning ending double play. It was the third double-play in as many innings and put Hellweg in line for a home victory which ultimately wouldn’t come.
Big nights at the plate: Coming into the game, Cardinals pitcher Shelby Miller had only given up three earned runs in 25 inninings pitched against the Brewers.
Aramis Ramirez only needed one at-bat to match that on Friday night, belting a three-run homer to left-center field in the bottom of the first inning to put the Brewers up 3-1. The home run was Ramirez’ first since September 6 against the Cubs and first with runners on base in just under a month, also against the Cardinals.
After adding another RBI in the fifth inning on a sacrifice fly to right field, Ramirez nearly gave the Brewers the lead again in the seventh inning. He singled sharply to right field but Norichika Aoki was thrown out on a close play at the plate to end the inning. He would come back in the ninth with the bases loaded to tie the game on an infield squibber, finishing the night 3-of-4 with five RBI.
Aoki himself had quite the night at the plate going 4-4 with a walk and scoring two runs.
“He did a great job today,” Roenicke added. “Hopefully he gets on a roll like he does for the rest of the year, but he had a great game today.”