Seven-run fifth dooms Suppan, Brewers
Braun blasts two-run shot in losing cause for Milwaukee
MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Brewers already tried a "Take Back Miller Park" campaign a couple seasons ago, aimed at moments when the Chicago Cubs come to town. For perhaps the biggest four games of the year to date, they'll need to adopt a "Take Back First Place" concept as well.
The Brewers' enjoyment of a first-place tie lasted only one day after Houston clubbed out an 11-6 victory over Milwaukee on Sunday, taking the series win and any momentum the Brewers hoped to create heading into a series against the team they're chasing in the National League Central. Chicago defeated Florida, 9-6, on Sunday to reclaim a one-game advantage heading into the big four-game set that begins on Monday.
Brewers starter Jeff Suppan was torched for seven runs in the fifth inning, a frame that obliterated a 4-1 Milwaukee edge. Geoff Blum hit his second home run of the game, a three-run shot with two outs, to cap the rally.
It was Blum's first career multihomer game, after he went deep in the second inning to tie the score at 1-1. Blum entered the game with a .524 batting average and .714 slugging percentage in 21 at-bats against Suppan (5-7).
"He's got some damage off me, some base hits, and he's one of those hitters that I'm always trying to make pitches on," Suppan said. "Then again, I'm trying to make pitches on everybody."
Seth McClung, operating as the team's long reliever, warmed up as the inning unfolded, but Brewers manager Ned Yost stuck with his starter.
"If you can get him through that situation, a veteran pitcher, and the score is still 5-4 -- with the way we've been scoring runs, that's great," Yost said. "You get him through that, a lot of times he'll settle in. His pitch count was still low enough where he could get you another inning or two. The problem came when he didn't get Blum out. But he did settle down. Once the damage is done with the three-run homer, no sense taking him out there. He came back in the sixth and rolled again."
By then, it was too late, and the Astros tacked on three more runs in the eighth against McClung, snapping the bullpen's 13-inning scoreless streak.
The big inning had its moments of bad luck, including a bunt by pitcher Randy Wolf that stayed fair and untouched along the third-base line, loading the bases with no outs. Second baseman Rickie Weeks also could not handle Miguel Tejada's liner to second base, scoring the tying and go-ahead runs, and prolonging the inning enough for further damage.
Weeks was originally charged with an error before the ruling was overturned.
"In that inning, I would say location was a big factor," Suppan said. "When you're able to locate, usually it's on the ground. I had some bloops, a walk and, obviously, a three-run home run."
Yost said Suppan would have come out of the game, had Blum reached via less-damaging means.
"Blum was going to be his last guy," Yost said. "But then the three-run homer changes that. Now, we see if we can't get another out or inning out of him. In those games when you're down three or four runs, you don't want to use your best relievers unless you crawl back into the game. You try to extend whatever pitching you have."
Milwaukee established its three-run lead on a two-run homer by Ryan Braun, an RBI double by Mike Rivera and a sacrifice fly from Prince Fielder.
Braun's homer was his fourth in five games, and the outfielder has hit .407 with eight dingers and 22 RBIs in his last 20 outings. Rivera, making just his 11th start at catcher this season, contributed in his first start since July 10.
"Even if it's every 15 days, I go out there and do what I can to help this team," Rivera said. "I'm trying to stay focused every time I get out there. It's hard to be mentally strong, and I think that's the most important thing."
J.J. Hardy later added an RBI single, running his hitting streak to nine games, and an RBI groundout in the ninth.
Chris Sampson (5-3) earned the win in relief after Wolf was unable to last five innings in his first start since being traded to Houston earlier this week.
Of course, Sunday's events served as a precursor to the team's upcoming games against Chicago, a team that pulled back atop the standings after falling into a first-place tie with Milwaukee on Saturday. The four games figure to draw a healthy contingent of fans from both sides, like the mixed crowds that prompted the team to create the "Take Back Miller Park" campaign in 2006.
The club has already sold out all four games and will add to its current streak of seven straight home sellouts, which tied a franchise record on Sunday.
JR Radcliffe is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.