Crew builds large lead, then survives
Eight-run advantage halved in fifth, but Brewers hold on
MIAMI -- The Brewers did not so much win a game on Wednesday as they survived one.Braden Looper couldn't get the out he needed to qualify for what should have been an easy win, but the Brewers held on to defeat the Marlins, 9-6, on a long night at Land Shark Stadium. Ryan Braun hit a two-run home run in the third inning off Florida starter Sean West (0-1) but most of the action was reserved for a 51-minute, 94-pitch fifth inning in which the teams combined for 10 runs, eight hits, five walks and three errors.
Looper was spotted a 9-1 lead in the top of that inning but saw it shrink to 9-5 in the bottom half, when Dan Uggla stepped to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded, representing the tying run. One out shy of qualifying for the win, Looper was yanked from the game."I don't know what happened. It's still such a big blur to me," said Looper, who was charged with five runs and seven hits in 4 2/3 innings of a stinging no-decision. Seth McClung (3-1) struck out Uggla to end the long fifth and took the win instead after 3 1/3 innings of quality relief. Trevor Hoffman improved to 14-for-14 in save opportunities with his 16th scoreless appearance this season. "It's too bad for 'Loop,'" Brewers manager Ken Macha said. "He had a big lead, had a chance to get a 'W,' and it didn't work out." It wasn't for a lack of support. The Brewers scored six runs in their half of the fifth inning with lots of help from Marlins defenders, who committed two errors, and Florida reliever Hayden Penn, who walked four batters including the Brewers' bottom three hitters -- Bill Hall, Jason Kendall and Looper -- with the bases loaded. Penn was designated for assignment after the game. The walks were especially egregious, considering that Hall had five hits in his previous 54 at-bats, including a popout and a strikeout against West. Kendall had five hits in his previous 42 at-bats. Looper is 1-for-14 at the plate this season. "Obviously, it's a pretty helpless feeling when you can't throw the ball over the plate," Penn said. "When you have that many batters go through, and you can't figure it out. It's tough." The Marlins could have escaped trailing only 6-1, but third baseman Emilio Bonifacio committed an error on Corey Hart's grounder as another run scored. Casey McGehee capped the outburst with a two-run double that made it 9-1.
"They gave us six baserunners, and we got six runs," Macha said. "But we got in the [bottom of] the fifth inning, and those guys were battling. They can swing the bats."Looper needed just three outs to qualify for what should have been an easy win, but he couldn't get them. He faced nine batters in the bottom of the fifth, surrendered four runs and committed a fielding error. When Looper walked Jeremy Hermida to load the bases and bring the tying run to the plate in Uggla, the Brewers were forced once again to tap a bullpen that has now worked 20 of the 43 innings during a lousy turn through the starting rotation that started with Dave Bush's four-inning outing against the Reds on Saturday.
McClung caught Uggla looking at three consecutive strikes and pumped his fist after recording the inning-ending strikeout.
"We're a team, and we sink or swim together," McClung said. "If a part of our unit needs a pick me up, the other part of the unit has to do it. If we don't, we're not going to stay in first place much longer."
At 31-22, the Brewers own a one-game edge over the Cardinals in the National League Central.
The standings weren't on Macha's mind when he decided to pull Looper. He remembered one other such move in his four-plus years as a Major League manager, when he removed then-A's starter Ted Lilly from a game just short of a win.
"That's a tough decision to make," Macha said. "The pitcher wants to get the win, and I don't blame him. As far as I'm concerned, I gave him ample opportunity."
Looper's last batter, Hermida, worked a 10-pitch walk on the right-hander's 45th pitch of the inning. With the bases loaded, an Uggla grand slam would have tied the game.
"At that point, I didn't feel that [Looper] could make a pitch on Uggla," Macha said. "You would like to have a guy get through five innings with that kind of lead, but if Uggla comes up and hits a home run there, I wouldn't have felt too good."
Looper, who wouldn't blame his lapse on the long top of the fifth inning or the South Florida humidity, took out his frustration in the dugout, where he hurled a batting helmet against a cooler. He said he understood Macha's move.
"Luckily, the guys scored a lot of runs for me today and it didn't cost me the game," Looper said. "I felt like I was pitching good enough to pitch really deep in the game and to 'lose it' like that was extremely frustrating."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.