by Troy Sparks
Think what a good tongue-lashing can do for a team like the Milwaukee Brewers. The recent clubhouse meeting after losing two home games in their recent series to Arizona is a message for the team to get their butts in gear.
The Brewers have to wake up before they lose track of what they have to do to reach the postseason and to revisit their goals going into the all-star break.
They can’t afford to let the St. Louis Cardinals run away with the National League Central lead. They were tied with the Cards for the lead entering their series against the Diamondbacks, July 4. After losing two out of the three games, the Crew found themselves a game behind first place. For at least a day, the Pittsburgh Pirates – once loveable losers and now playing good ball – took second place from the Brewers before the Crew snatched it back when they beat the Diamondbacks in the series finale.
It was up to the Brewers to respond. Cincinnati came into Miller Park, July 7-10 hoping to add to the Crew’s misery and ended up on the wrong side of one run losses in the first two of the four-game series.
Milwaukee jumped out in front of the Reds, 5-3 going into the ninth inning in the July 7 game. Closer John Axford gave up a homer to Ramon Hernandez and was in trouble when the Reds threatened with Drew Stubbs on first base with one out. A pitchout was called and Stubbs was caught trying to steal second base. Weeks’ drop of an infield blooper hit by Cincy’s Miguel Cairo made the fans nervous. After Joey Votto’s hit moved Cairo to third and himself to first, Axford got out of the jam, grabbing Brandon Phillips’ grounder and saving the game in a 5-4 final.
“With Ax out there,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said, “we felt that (Stubbs) was their best base stealer. We thought he was gonna go.”
“I feel like I made good pitches,” Axford said. “(Cairo and Votto) found holes. (Cairo’s hit) was barely out of Rickie’s reach. The other one was generally where (Yuniesky Betancourt) was standing.”
Not expecting the pitchout, Stubbs became a lame duck. “When (the coaching staff) called a pitchout, it was pretty much 100 percent that (Stubbs) was going to run,” catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. “I was right there. I called it. Ax gave me a great pitch. Great pitchout. He threw it down hard and down low. It was easy. And he threw it perfect.
“We executed it just right. It ended up working out. It was still a pretty close play. That’s how fast I got it (to second). If I don’t throw it perfect, (Stubbs would’ve been safe).”
In the July 8 game, the Brewers were down to their last at-bat in the ninth inning with two outs, the bases loaded and staring at a 7-6 loss. Mark Kotsay’s game-winning hit drove in the two runs they needed for an 8-7 comeback win.
“We never feel like we’re out of a ballgame, which is really important,” Roenicke said after their second straight win over the Reds. “I know at this ballpark it seems to (happen) more than other places, but that feeling of always grinding it out to the end is going to pay off with a lot of wins for the rest of the season.”
Before the July 9 game, two past Negro League ballplayers were honored at Miller Park. Charlie “Whip” Davis – a nickname given by country music legend and former teammate Charlie Pride for winning 20 games in a row – pitched for the Memphis Red Sox from 1950-55. He played in the East-West All Star Game in 1953.
Johnny Washington was a pitcher for the Chicago American Giants in 1949 and the Houston Eagles in 1950. Washington served in the Marines in Korea before playing minor league baseball from 1954-60. As a tribute to the Negro Leaguers, the Brewers wore uniforms that represented the Milwaukee Bears of 1923. Cincinnati donned uniforms of the 1936-37 Tigers.
Marcum gave up two runs to the Reds early in the game. The Brewers got three runs back to lead, 3-2. Cincinnati tied the game at 3-3. Milwaukee had a chance to win it in their half of the ninth with Kotsay being the hero again. His liner was caught, sending the game into extra innings.
Axford was pulled for Marco Estrada to pitch the 10th inning. It fell apart for the Crew. The Reds scored five runs in that inning and gave up one to the Brewers for an 8-4 win. Milwaukee’s loss and St. Louis’ win that night resulted in a tie for first for the umpteenth time.
“We were kind of looking at length there,” Roenicke said of bringing Estrada in. “I figured that we would be able to score there, hopefully the next couple of innings.” Estrada, who started some games this year, can pitch more than two innings. That’s why he was brought in to extend the game.
Last Sunday, the Brewers had to rally from behind again in the ninth to beat the Reds, 4-3. Roenicke chose between sending Craig Counsell or injured Ryan Braun to the plate as a pinch hitter. Counsell went up to bat and hit a sacrifice fly to score George Kottaras from third.
“The choice was between he and Braunie, and I think everybody liked Counsell up there,” Roenicke said. “Not that we don’t like Braunie, obviously, but the risk factor (of getting re-injured is there).”
In the middle of July, the Brewers and Cardinals are in the same position as they were a month ago: Tied for first in the division.