Jenkins jolts Brewers to extra-inning win
Three-run homer in 12th bails out Cordero against Rangers
ARLINGTON -- All Francisco Cordero wanted was a quick shot at redemption. But when it arrived Sunday night, he was unable to come through again.For the second time in as many nights, the Brewers' closer was within one strike of ending the game in the bottom of the ninth when he gave up a lead against his former team. This time, however, teammate Geoff Jenkins got Cordero off the hook. The left fielder salvaged a rough night at the plate and the finale of this three-game series by slamming a three-run homer off Rangers reliever Willie Eyre to give Milwaukee a 9-6 victory in 12 innings. "There was a lot of determination in that game right there," weary Brewers manager Ned Yost sighed after the 4-hour, 20-minute marathon before 24,129 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. "They stayed after it, no matter what happened." And what happened -- for the second consecutive night -- was the previously unthinkable. Cordero had made a triumphant return to the ballpark where he pitched for 6 1/2 seasons, arriving Friday with an 0.36 ERA and a spotless record of 22 consecutive saves to start the season. He was unquestionably baseball's best closer of the season's first two months, and justifiably proud of it. But after pitching Saturday and Sunday, Cordero left Texas with one loss, two blown saves and an ERA of 2.05. The experience had to rekindle memories of April 2006, the month when Cordero blew five saves, had an ERA of 11.46 and lost his role as the Rangers' closer. He was supplanted by Akinori Otsuka and traded to Milwaukee three months later. But if Cordero returned to Arlington with a chip on his shoulder, the Rangers had little trouble dislodging it. "If it was meant to happen here, it was meant to happen," Cordero said. "Everybody is going to go through some tough times. And I know everybody is looking that it happened in Texas, that I blew two saves against my old team, and making a big deal of that. But I think 22 of 24 is still pretty good." Thanks to three scoreless innings by Carlos Villanueva (5-0) and Claudio Vargas (first career save), coupled with Jenkins' 11th homer, the sting of Cordero's second blown save faded quickly. "At least we'll be leaving here happy," said the relieved reliever. "It will be a better flight tonight." Ryan Braun opened the 12th inning by reaching on an error by Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler. After Prince Fielder struck out, Corey Hart lined a single off the left calf of Rangers right-hander Willie Eyre. Eyre (2-3) assured Rangers manager Ron Washington and trainer Jamie Reed he was fit to continue, but his first pitch to Jenkins was hammered into the upper deck in right field. It was Jenkins' first hit of the game after going 0-for-5 with two strikeouts and being hit by a pitch on his right elbow in the sixth. The home run was the 202nd of Jenkins' career, breaking a tie with Cecil Cooper for sole possession of third place on the Brewers' all-time list. "They didn't make it easy on us the whole series," Jenkins said. "It was nice to pitch in. We had 22 hits [a season high]. To that point, I didn't have any of them." "Jenkins hadn't put too many good at-bats together tonight," Yost agreed. "But I guess he saved it for the last one." With Jenkins' homer, the Brewers (34-29) won for only the 10th time in 29 games, averted what would have been their first three-game sweep at the hands of the Rangers in Texas in 35 years and improved to 3-0 in extra-inning games. The Rangers (23-40) fell to 1-4 in extended games. The Brewers might have won the game an inning earlier, if not for a missed call by plate umpire C.B. Bucknor.
Johnny Estrada started that inning with a single, and pinch-runner Tony Gwynn Jr. moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by Bill Hall. Tony Graffanino singled and Gwynn raced home, only to be nailed at the plate on a strong throw by center fielder Kenny Lofton. However, replays showed Gwynn's hand touched the plate before catcher Adam Melhuse applied the tag."We weren't getting much of anything all night long," Yost said. "That was a bang-bang play that probably could have been called correctly either way. But when you're going through things like we're going through, you generally don't get those calls. And that's part of why you're going through tough times." Cordero had been entrusted with a 6-5 lead in the ninth, but he gave up a one-out single to Gerald Laird, allowed an uncontested steal of second by pinch-runner Jerry Hairston Jr., then surrendered a game-tying single by Marlon Byrd with two outs and an 0-2 count. Byrd matched his career high with four hits, including a single that cut the Brewers' two-run lead in half in the seventh, and the single that tied the game in the ninth. Byrd is batting .407 since his May 26 recall from Triple-A Oklahoma. "Marlon Byrd can find some holes," Yost said. "He didn't always hit them hard, but he found some holes." The Brewers had rallied from a three-run deficit to take their first lead in the top of the sixth. Right-hander Dave Bush was the beneficiary, having been on the hook at that point for what would have been his team-leading seventh loss. C.J. Wilson, the Rangers' lone left-handed reliever, blew a 4-2 lead with two out in the top of the sixth when he allowed the four hitters he faced to reach base during a three-run rally. Wilson gave up a single to Fielder, hit Hart to load the bases, hit Jenkins to force in a run, then gave up a two-run single to Estrada that put the Brewers in front, 5-4. Craig Counsell hit his first homer of the season with one out in the seventh, giving the Brewers a two-run lead. But Texas cut the deficit to 6-5 when Lofton doubled and scored on Byrd's one-out single off Matt Spurling. Two innings later, Byrd struck again against Cordero. Yost was philosophical before the game about how his team would respond to Saturday's stunning loss. "Baseball is a strange game," he said. "It will humble you in a heartbeat. But it will also develop you and make you a winner, or expose you if you're a loser. It tests you. Over the course of 162 games, if you're a champion, you're a champion. This is a little bit of a test for us. The game says, 'You want to be a champion? Let's see how you handle this.' "Do you panic? Do you quit? Here, take two outs and two strikes in the ninth with a guy who's been perfect on the mound -- bam! How will you handle that? My money says those kids are going to react just fine." His words proved prophetic. Fielder helped erase the early 3-0 deficit with a two-run homer in the fifth, his 23rd of the season. One day earlier, that would have given him the Major League lead, but the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez homered twice Sunday to run his total to 24. The Brewers also countered two errors with two spectacular defensive plays. Center fielder Hall won a place on the team's 2007 highlight reel with a remarkable diving catch on the warning track of Laird's drive in the second. Later, third baseman Braun atoned for an error with a stab and recovery to throw out Sammy Sosa, preventing the tying run from scoring from third base in the seventh inning. That might have been the play that saved the game, until Cordero struggled again in the ninth. Even so, Yost's pregame perception proved correct. "As much as everybody wants to go crazy and panic, it's not happening, and that's a good thing," he said. "We're not playing bad baseball. It is what it is. You keep your head up and keep pushing." It took 12 innings, seven pitchers and 61 plate appearances Sunday, but the first-place Brewers finally pushed through again.
Ken Daley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.