Brewers drop heartbreaker to Braves
Team angry with umpire crew as playoff chances take hit
ATLANTA -- If you thought Saturday's loss was tough on the postseason-starved Brewers, you hadn't seen -- or heard -- anything yet.Ryan Braun hit a two-run home run and drove in three as the Brewers built a three-run lead that disappeared in the seventh inning on Sunday. Atlanta was on the right end of a pair of close calls and scored four runs on the way to a 7-4 win in the season's final game at Turner Field. The Brewers lost late leads in each of the final two games of the series, dropped three of four to the Braves and headed back to Miller Park with fading playoff hopes. The Brewers fell 3 1/2 games behind the front-running Cubs, who finished an easy sweep of the punchless Pirates with an 8-0 win at Wrigley Field. Barring a Chicago collapse in its final six games, Milwaukee's playoff drought will stretch to 25 seasons. You can count on one hand the number of times Brewers manager Ned Yost has pinned the outcome of a game on the umpiring crew, and Sunday was one of them. "Two times we were out of that inning with the lead, and that changes the game completely," said Yost, who was ejected in the middle of Atlanta's go-ahead rally. "There's got to be some accountability somewhere in the ranks there. That was unbelievable right there." All four of the Braves' runs in the seventh scored with two outs and were charged to Brewers reliever Claudio Vargas (11-5), who entered in relief after Chris Capuano delivered five inspired innings in a spot start. "Very rarely can you say that a call changed a game, and today I think it did," said Capuano, the Brewers' representative on the players union. "It's just really disappointing." Said reliever Ray King, who surrendered the go-ahead hit to Atlanta pinch-hitter Martin Prado: "When you give a team five outs, I don't care if it's Little League or the Major Leagues, they are going to do some damage. When a call changes the whole ballgame, it's tough to swallow." Milwaukee was already feeling sour by the start of the seventh because of a pair of calls in the second inning that could have gone either way. Brewers outfielder Corey Hart was called out on a bang-bang play in the top of the inning, when Braves third baseman Chipper Jones made a fabulous play. The other came leading off the bottom half, when Milwaukee first baseman Prince Fielder fielded an Andruw Jones grounder and both players dove toward first base. Fielder believed he tagged Jones on the leg, but the call from first-base umpire Jerry Layne was safe. The runner eventually scored for a 1-0 Atlanta lead. The Brewers took a 4-1 lead into the seventh, then Vargas surrendered his first run when a wild pitch was accidentally kicked away by catcher Mike Rivera. Rivera replaced Johnny Estrada in the third inning after Estrada suffered a left knee injury. Still with two outs, Mark Teixeira hit a bouncer to the middle of the diamond. Second baseman Rickie Weeks fielded it and jumped for a throw to first that arrived late, according to Layne. "Wow," said Fielder, who has been suspended once this season and feared saying any more. Jeff Francoeur drew a walk to bring up Andruw Jones, who was only 2-for-14 in the series, including his earlier infield hit. Jones blooped a single to center field that made it 4-3, but the Brewers appeared to catch a break when Francoeur momentarily lagged off second base as center fielder Bill Hall bobbled the baseball. Hall's throw to second beat Francoeur to the bag, but the call was safe from umpire Chris Guccione. "The throw definitely beat me. I'm not denying that," Francoeur said. "But I thought I was able to make a juke move with my right hand when he tried to tag it." Capuano, who was watching on television in the clubhouse and saw replays, said both Teixeira and Francoeur were "absolutely" out. Weeks agreed, and said that Francoeur, an old Arizona Fall League colleague, "knew it, too." "I don't want to talk about it right now, because I'm afraid of what I might say," Weeks said. "I'm kind of frustrated. There are a lot of frustrated guys in here right now. But that's baseball, it's a game of inches and sometimes it doesn't go your way. ... You can't be mad about old times." That call set off the fireworks. Weeks argued his case with Guccione as Yost stormed to the scene, where he was promptly ejected. After some words with Guccione, Yost went to first base ump Layne to express his feelings on the Teixeira call. Crew chief Ed Montague said he had not seen replays of either play in the seventh inning, but said that umpiring supervisor Rich Garcia, who was on-site, had. "He thought we got them right," Montague said. Yost was back in the clubhouse by the time Matt Diaz delivered a single to center field off Vargas, scoring Francoeur and knotting the game at 4. Pinch-hitter Prado then laced a single to left off King for the go-ahead run and made a winner of reliever Manny Acosta (1-1). The Braves tacked on two insurance runs in the eighth, and Rafael Soriano shut down the Brewers in the ninth inning for his ninth save. The Braves' late offense spoiled an outstanding start by Capuano, who filled in for an injured Ben Sheets and scattered seven hits in five innings and allowed one run. Despite that effort, the Brewers have now lost 21 consecutive games in which Capuano has pitched. "Capuano pitched great. He pitched his heart out," Yost said. "So did Vargas. He was out of that inning twice with the lead, and that sets it up for a rested [Scott] Linebrink in the eighth and [closer Francisco] Cordero for the ninth." Fielder was just as disheartened. "It goes to show you that there is nothing we can control," he said. "There's nothing you can do besides score enough runs to where nothing matters. With [the Braves], it's hard to do. We battled the whole series but their pitching is tough."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.