Baseball can be quite the puzzling game, rarely following any kind of patter that makes sense. If it did, the Milwaukee Brewers and their struggling offense would have been shut down by Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price.
Instead, the Brewers used a four-RBI day from backup catcher Martin Maldonado to come away with a 5-0 victory over one of the best pitchers in baseball and temporarily bust out of their offensive funk.
"I thought the at-bats were great," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "I wish I knew why from game to game, but for some reason today I thought they saw the ball really well and were really patient. We really put some good swings together."
The Brewers entered Wednesday afternoon’s series finale with the Rays having scored just two runs over their last three games. Meanwhile, Price has been nearly unhittable since the end of May with a 1.82 ERA.
Price had gone at least eight innings with three or fewer earned runs earned in each of his last four starts, tossing eight scoreless innings in two of them.
But Milwaukee got to the All-Star left-hander early Wednesday, plating a pair of runs in the second inning. Aramis Ramirez started things with a single to center, while Rickie Weeks drew a walk after falling behind 0-2 in the count.
After a Khris Davis strikeout for the first out of the inning, Price walked Mark Reynolds to load the bases. Making just his fourth start of the month, Maldonado reached out and yanked a changeup into center for a two-run single.
"I think everybody was trying to be patient at the plate and swing at good pitches, especially when that’s a great pitcher over there," Maldonado said. "You have to calm yourself down a little bit and hit your pitch."
With Yovani Gallardo cruising with a 3-0 lead thanks to an RBI single from Ramirez in the third, Maldonado gave the Brewers two big insurance runs late in the game.
Maldonado’s first double since May 30 scored Mark Reynolds from first base with two outs in the sixth inning, while the backup catcher’s single to right with two outs in the eighth brought Khris Davis around to score to put the Brewers up 5-0.
"He did a great job," Gallardo said of his backstop. "He got some pitches up in the zone and put the ball in play. Obviously Price is a tough pitcher to face. He did it all today."
The four runs driven in by Maldonado matched a career high set against San Diego on Oct. 2, 2012. Maldonado entered with just three hits since June 4 and was four for his last 29 (.138) at the plate before going 3 for 4 on Wednesday.
With Jonathan Lucroy starting at first base, Roenicke gave Maldonado a rare chance to start and he came through.
"It was just see the ball and hit it, don’t try to do too much," Maldonado said of his approach. "Especially when you don’t play too much, you have to keep it as simple as possible."
Thanks to the production from Maldonado and the bottom of the lineup, the Brewers finally capitalized on a strong outing from a starting pitcher.
Gallardo extended his scoreless streak to 16 2/3 innings by tossing seven scoreless frames against the Rays. The right-hander allowed a pair of singles in the first inning but then didn’t allow another hit until the seventh.
"His command was great," Roenicke said of Gallardo. "He threw some outstanding fastballs down and away. The curveball was good again, the slider was good, but the command I thought was really good.
With the win Wednesday, Gallardo passed Ben Sheets for sole possession of fifth place on the Brewers all-time wins list with 87.
"Everything (was working)," Maldonado said of Gallardo. "I think he made good pitches when he needed to, was throwing his breaking ball for a strike when he needed to. He had a pretty good fastball down and away. That was probably key for him today."
The win not only snapped Milwaukee’s three-game losing streak, but also beating Price was a much-needed confidence booster for the Brewers heading into a critical three-game series in St. Louis this weekend.
With Pittsburgh and St. Louis playing later Wednesday, the Brewers will head into Thursday’s day off with at least a one game lead over the Pirates and a 1 1/2 game lead over the Cardinals.
"Definitely, a big win," Gallardo said. "We had two tough games yesterday and the day before that. I was able to make pitches, to be honest. Got into trouble and made pitches down in the zone to get out of it."