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04/22/09 11:13 PM ET
Looper, Brewers 'pen shut down Phils
Starter tosses six scoreless; Coffey, Hardy, Cameron deliver
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
PHILADELPHIA -- Braden Looper has become the Brewers' slump-stopper, and at least for the moment, it appears that Todd Coffey will be the closer. Looper delivered six shutout innings and Coffey notched the save despite allowing his first Brewers run in the ninth inning of a 3-1 win over the Phillies on Wednesday. Milwaukee's first victory at Citizens Bank Park since 2007 got interesting in the final moments. Coffey, who had not been scored upon in 16 appearances and 17 innings since the Brewers claimed him off waivers last September, was the choice for the ninth inning over Carlos Villanueva, who had been keeping that spot warm while all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman rehabs a rib-cage injury. Coffey's scoreless streak ended when he surrendered a solo home run to Jayson Werth, and four batters later, he found himself facing the potential go-ahead run. Coffey struck out pinch-hitter Chris Coste to end the game, and was all smiles afterward despite sporting an earned run average for the first time as a Brewer. With the run Wednesday, his ERA stands at 0.84. "I'll take the highest ERA in the world," Coffey said, "as long as we get W's." Looper has been good at delivering wins in the early part of the season. In his previous start against the Reds, he limited the damage to three runs in six innings and won for a Brewers team that had lost its fourth game in a row. Entering Wednesday the team had lost three of four, including a Phillies rout on Tuesday night. He scattered five singles and issued two walks, both to slugger Ryan Howard. Looper did not notch a strikeout, but he also didn't allow a run, and improved to 2-0 thanks to J.J. Hardy's fifth-inning solo home run and Mike Cameron's two-run double in the sixth. Looper isn't concerned with the carrying the mantle of "stopper." "I don't know about all that. I just know that every time I go out there, I want to pitch well," he said. "That's whether we've won five in a row or not. It's unfortunate that we've gotten off to a slow start, but we're working hard and everyone is trying. We've got a good team and we're going to be all right. We have to ride this thing out, and if we get some guys going in the right direction, we'll be all right." One of those guys is Hardy, who entered play Wednesday with a .125 batting average and a new spot in manager Ken Macha's lineup. Hardy slipped from fifth to sixth and responded by going 2-for-3, with a single in the second inning and a solo home run in the fifth off Phillies starter Joe Blanton (0-2). Cameron assumed Hardy's spot in the five hole, and delivered some insurance in the sixth inning when he yanked a two-out, two-run double to the left-field corner. That hit was also off Blanton, who was charged with three runs on eight hits. "We just have to continue to find ways to be productive and give ourselves a chance," Cameron said. "[Looper] was big. We definitely needed that today." "It should be a nice model for everybody to follow," Macha said of Looper. "We made some nice defensive plays today, and there's nothing wrong with letting the other team swing the bat and put the ball in play." Looper faced two jams during his six innings. The first was in the opening frame, when Shane Victorino and Chase Utley knocked consecutive one-out singles to set up a showdown with slugging first baseman Howard, who entered the night 4-for-5 in career matchups against Looper with four home runs. Make it 4-for-6. Looper escaped the inning with a double-play groundout. "That felt really good," Looper said. "He's, like, crushed me. ... I was able to make a good pitch. Most of the homers he has off me, I made a mistake. I was able to make a good pitch there and get the ground ball. "That was a big spot. That was the game there, probably, in the sense that it kept it in control." Looper's other jam developed in the sixth, when, with two outs, he walked Howard for the second time in the game and Werth followed with an infield hit off third baseman Craig Counsell's glove. Raul Ibanez followed and hit a ball hard to right field, where Corey Hart twisted and turned but made the catch. "I wasn't locating in and out as much as I would have liked, but I was able to keep it down," Looper said. "I gave up a lot of fly balls on balls that were really low -- probably borderline ball/strike low. So I felt as long as I can do that, the chances to succeed are much higher." By the sixth, at least the conditions had improved. The game started in the rain with the wind whipping out to right field. It was recorded in the box score as an eight-mph breeze, but try telling that to Howard, who overran a Prince Fielder popup in the top of second inning. Or to Cameron, who was saved by Hart on a wind-blown ball in the bottom half of that frame. "It was terrible," Cameron said. "Wind was blowing 100 mph, it was raining. That's Green Bay football weather, man. You're not supposed to play baseball in that stuff." The Brewers were glad they did. After Looper's six scoreless frames, Mark DiFelice worked a 1-2-3 seventh, Villanueva worked a scoreless eighth inning for the second straight night and Coffey took the ninth for his second save in three days. He also earned one Sunday in New York by pitching 2 2/3 scoreless innings.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.