MILWAUKEE — Marco Estrada just happened to be walking past a clubhouse TV when the stat was read. The Brewers were the only team in baseball not to lose a game this season when leading after eight innings, a perfect 50-0.
“Next thing you know we lose the game,” Estrada said.
One out away from another save, Brewers closer Jim Henderson surrendered a home run off the foul pole in right field to Angels pinch hitter Hank Conger, putting Los Angeles ahead for good, 6-5.
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It was the first blown save by the Brewers in the ninth inning since Opening Day and Henderson’s first blown save since June 30.
“It sucks. It’s shocking,” Estrada said. “Henderson has been great all year. I thought he made a pretty good pitch and somehow the guy got around it and got it out. Obviously, it’s not what you want to see, but it is also a little shocking because he’s been really good this year.”
Despite having three different pitchers act as closer this season, the Brewers have been a safe bet with a lead in the ninth inning. It’s the area where they’ve improved the most since 2012 when they led baseball in blown saves.
Henderson quickly retired the first two batters of the ninth inning, but fell behind 3-1 to pinch hitter Josh Hamilton. After leaving the park with a migraine headache Friday, Hamilton was out of the starting lineup again Saturday. He hit a sinking fly ball to right that hit off the glove of right fielder Caleb Gindl and bounced far enough away for a double.
Playing deep to prevent a double, Gindl couldn’t quite get there and, in the end, allowed a double anyway.
“I was back and I needed one more step,” Gindl said. “I think it hit underneath my glove and it went forward. I was trying to get under it and it hit underneath and shot forward.
“It was one of those situations where I probably shouldn’t have dove for it, but I was going all out and I thought I could make a play on it. I thought I could catch it so I went for it. I wouldn’t have dove if I didn’t think I could have caught it. I thought I could catch it and I was three inches short.”
Henderson fell behind 2-1 to Conger before leaving a fastball out over the plate. The ball kept hooking, but Conger was able to keep it just fair for the first pinch-hit home run of his career and the first of the season for the Angels.
“I felt good with my fastball tonight; it was lively,” Henderson said. “I throw a lot of fastballs and Conger, credit him, he was just timing it up there. He saw three of them and timed up the third one and it was a little bit too middle, for sure. We were trying to go in. We don’t have enough scouting on him. We’re thinking he is kind of a dive-hooker guy, so we were trying to get in on him. I still left it over the plate.”
One of Henderson’s goals moving forward is to get better against left-handed hitters. Making him more frustrated was the fact he surrendered two-out hits to lefties.
“I want to do better against lefties,” Henderson said. “I was getting it in there, but throwing across my body a bit, the ball kind of cuts across to the lefties. So I was getting it in on those guys, but if those get left off the plate it kind of stays there.”
While blown saves are going to happen — especially when a team is 50-0 leading after eight innings – this one was particularly frustrating for the Brewers. Coming off a road trip in which they won two-of-three games from two National League contenders, the Brewers looked to have bounced back Saturday after not playing well Friday.
Jonathan Lucroy’s two-run single with the bases loaded in the seventh inning gave the Brewers a 5-4 lead, but Milwaukee couldn’t bring home an insurance run from third base with one out in the same inning.
“It was a hard game to lose,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “We played well, battled back and got the lead. Henderson has been great all year. We know he’s not going to be perfect and there’s going to be a time he gives up some runs. It’s unfortunate when we battle back like that, it’s just hard to lose those games.”
A blown save stings even when a closer has been as good as Henderson has been this season. But one thing he learned from the recently departed John Axford is to quickly put a bad outing behind him because the next opportunity is coming quickly.
“I still have a month to go, and I want to finish strong here,” Henderson said. “The good thing is we have a day game tomorrow and there’s not much time to think about it and get back out there.”