In a game they simply had to win, and one they seemed to have under control, the Milwaukee Brewers lost in an almost indescribable way Thursday night.
A gigantic mental gaffe by first baseman Mark Reynolds in the eighth inning allowed the St. Louis Cardinals to score a pair of runs to tie the game, while an inability to get a clutch hit cost the Brewers in extra innings.
The result was a 3-2 loss in 13 innings at Busch Stadium, a defeat that feels back-breaking. Milwaukee’s playoff hopes are now in severe peril, sitting 3 1/2 games behind Pittsburgh for the final wild-card spot with nine games to play.
Without a sweep over the Pirates this weekend at PNC Park, the Brewers almost certainly won’t be headed to the postseason — a historic collapse after leading the National League Central for 150 consecutive days.
"We go in there, you have to try to win one game at a time," Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun said. "I don’t think you can have the mindset of thinking too far ahead and about having to sweep somebody. It’s hard enough to win one game, as we’ve shown here recently. We just have to do everything we can to try to win (Friday)’s game and go from there."
Up 2-0 with one out in the eighth, Jonathan Broxton got A.J. Pierzynski to hit what appeared to be a double-play ball to Reynolds. Forgetting how many outs there were, Reynolds casually stepped on the first-base bag, thinking that was the third out.
The Cardinals punished the Brewers for allowing them new life, using the mental blunder to tie the game.
"Came out of a pitching change and I just thought there were two outs," Reynolds said. "Mistakes like that can’t happen, obviously. Especially at this point in the season. (starting pitcher Kyle) Lohse pitched his (expletive) off, these guys battled hard and I got in the game and just messed up.
"Everyone had their hands on their heads. It was an easy double-play ball, especially with Pierzynski running. I just thought there were two outs. It happens. It just happened to be in a crucial part of the game in a crucial game we needed to win. I feel bad about it. I messed up."
After the gaffe, Broxton walked Matt Carpenter, and Jon Jay singled to left to plate St. Louis’ first run of the night.
Matt Holliday followed by hitting a slow roller toward second base. Scooter Gennett charged the ball and threw on to Reynolds at first. Holliday slid in head first and was initially called out by first-base umpire Fieldin Culbreth. But the Cardinals challenged the play and the call was overturned.
Milwaukee appeared to catch a break on the play, as Matt Carpenter never stopped running and would have scored had Culbreth ruled Holliday safe. But he was sent back to third. Broxton then walked Matt Adams with the bases loaded, as the Cardinals first baseman took a close pitch on 3-2 count to force in the tying run.
"It’s not (Reynolds’ mistake)," Broxton said. "I walked those two guys. I mean, that’s on me, and that’s what hurt. Those two walks, that’s what kept them going."
It was a drastic change in momentum, as Lohse had held the Cardinals down all night. He entered the eighth inning having allowed just three hits and seemed to be on cruise control.
Pinch-hitter Oscar Taveras led off the eighth with a single, but Lohse responded by getting Kolten Wong to hit into a fielder’s choice for the first out. Although his veteran starter was only at 88 pitches, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke pulled him in favor of Broxton.
"We were really thinking of going to him at the start of the inning," Roenicke said of Broxton. "Kyle had pitched so well and his pitch count was fine, and he felt great. So we decided to let Kyle go out there but getting Broxton up along with him. Any trouble at all and then we’d go get him.
"Broxton got the ball he should have got. If we turn the double play — I don’t know if we could have or not but we had a chance to — then the inning is over. Any time I’m bringing Broxton in the game, I’m feeling good about it."
The Brewers had opportunities aplenty to take the lead in extra innings. In the 10th, Lyle Overbay drew a leadoff walk and pinch-runner Elian Herrera went to third on a one-out single by Gennett.
Milwaukee had the go-ahead run 90 feet away with its best hitters coming to the plate with one out, but Lucroy struck out and Aramis Ramirez grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
Ryan Braun led off the 11th with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Gerardo Parra. Following a Khris Davis’ groundout, Cardinals reliever Carlos Martinez walked pinch-hitters Logan Schafer and Rickie Weeks to load the bases with two outs.
Needing a big hit, Carlos Gomez swung over a first-pitch slider, missed a bunt attempt on the second pitch and eventually struck out on a down-and-away slider.
"We had lots of chances to win that game," Roenicke said. "They had chances also, but we had lots of chances to win that game just by getting a hit from somebody. We were in a good position."
The back-and-forth of scoreless innings finally ended in the bottom of the 13th inning. Holliday led off with a single off Jimmy Nelson but was forced out at second on a groundball by Matt Adams.
Nelson then got Jhonny Peralta to hit what could have been a double-play ball to third, but the ball went under Ramirez’s glove for a single. One batter later, the light-hitting Tony Cruz singled back up the middle to easily score Adams with the winning run.
As the Cardinals moved closer to yet another division title, the Brewers walked off the field knowing they are in an unenviable position.
"We’ve got to win," Reynolds said. "We can’t give any games away. We’ve got to bring it every day. We’re running out of time and our backs are against the wall. We need these wins.
"Tonight would have been nice to win, but we’ve just got to keep pushing forward. We’re not out of it yet. It’s getting to that point where you win or go home."