Big lead slips away and playoff hopes end

ST. LOUIS – It always hurts when a contending team gets eliminated from the playoffs, but this one was particularly tough to take.

Ahead by six runs in the third inning, the Milwaukee Brewers let it all slip away and lost, 7-6, to the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Saturday afternoon to get eliminated from the race for the National League’s second wild-card berth on the next-to-last day of the season.

The Cardinals scored three times in the eighth inning to overcome a 6-4 deficit and snatch the game away. Stephen Piscotty singled in two runs off reliever Anthony Swarzak to tie it, and after Piscotty’s out at second base on the play was overturned on video replay, he scored on Harrison Bader’s hit.

With Milwaukee playing a late afternoon game and Colorado a night game at home against the Dodgers, it was up to the Brewers to win and force the Rockies, who had a two-game lead, to do likewise to claim the last remaining playoff berth. And it appeared they would do so.

The Brewers jumped out to their 6-0 on the strength of a five-run outburst in the third inning off Luke Weaver that included three consecutive notable hits. The first was an RBI double by Ryan Braun, who snapped out of a 1-for-20 slump that was part of a longer slide.

Travis Shaw, who had been sitting on 99 RBI since his walk-off, two-run homer against the Chicago Cubs a week earlier, ripped a two-run single to center to move over the century mark, a stated preseason goal. Domingo Santana followed with a two-run homer to center, allowing him to reach 30 for the season.

BOX SCORE: Cardinals 7, Brewers 6

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Right-hander Junior Guerra got the start for the Brewers, completing an interesting year in which he went from opening day starter to being sent to the minors with command issues to being recalled in September to pitch in relief. It was the spot in the rotation that became a “bullpen day” down the stretch after Jimmy Nelson was injured and Matt Garza stopped getting outs.

“It has been (different),” manager Craig Counsell said before the game. “But it all kind of fits into the story (of Guerra’s well-traveled career).

“Part of the reason he’s in this spot is we feel he’s pitched very well since he has been back. He has done a nice job. I like the way he has gone about it, and how he has looked on the mound.

“This is not going to be a traditional start. Just get as many outs as you can. I think it is an all-hands-on-deck type of day. We’re in a spot where we can’t worry about tomorrow.”

And that’s the way it panned out after Guerra breezed through the first two innings. Given the 6-0 lead, he was removed after the Cardinals loaded the bases in the third with one down on Carson Kelly’s infield hit, Greg Garcia’s bloop single to shallow left and a walk to Tommy Pham.

The Brewers’ bad luck that inning continued after Jeremy Jeffress took over for Guerra. Paul DeJong blooped a two-run double just over first baseman Eric Thames and inside the right-field line, and Jose Martinez followed with a two-run, ground-rule double to right-center that Santana had trouble tracking in the sun.

Just like that, it was 6-4 and it was a game again. And, as Counsell suggested before the game, the procession of relievers began, with Swarzak finally letting it slip away in the eighth.                     

BEHIND THE BOX SCORE

* Left-hander Brent Suter, who filled a spot in a thin rotation over the final weeks of the season, put himself in good standing with his strong showing and versatility. Counsell said there was no reason at this point to declare Suter a starter or reliever for 2018 but likes what he has seen.

“Brent has done a really nice job,” Counsell said. “Regardless of what kind of label you want to put on him, he’s getting big-league hitters out. That’s what’s important to me. We’ll find a place for a guy who gets big-league hitters out.”

* Thames, hobbled earlier in the week by fouling a pitch off his right foot, did it again in the eighth and left the game in the bottom of the inning.

STAT SHEET

* Santana’s 30th home run gave the Brewers three players with at least 30 for only the second time in club history, including Thames (31) and Shaw (31). In 1982, Gorman Thomas (39), Ben Oglivie (34) and Cecil Cooper (31) all reached that level for the American League champs.

TAKEAWAY

The Brewers wanted to win and force Colorado to win to claim the wild card. Instead, they blew a 6-0 lead and were eliminated before the Rockies took the field. The math wasn’t in their favor, but it stings worse to go out like that.            

RECORD

This year: 85-76 (46-38 home; 39-38 away)

Last year: 72-89

NEXT GAME

Sunday: Brewers at Cardinals, 2:15 p.m. Milwaukee RHP Zach Davies (17-9, 3.90) vs. St. Louis RHP Carlos Martinez (12-11, 3.64). TV: FS Wisconsin. Radio: AM-620. 

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