Brewers 'pen punctuates tough trip with big W

Brewers 'pen punctuates tough trip with big W

OAKLAND -- It was a copy of the game they played over and over throughout their swing through California. This time, the Brewers' bullpen came away a winner.

Capping a nine-game road trip on which five of the Brewers' seven losses were pinned on a relief pitcher, Will Smith and Tyler Thornburg avoided a series of scares to close Wednesday's 4-2 win over the A's at the Coliseum. They covered the final two innings without closer Jeremy Jeffress, who remained unavailable because of an eye infection.

"Obviously, not a good road trip, but we were in almost every game," Thornburg said. "It could have been a lot different. This one definitely feels good."

"It was a trip to forget, that's for sure," Smith said.

But Wednesday's was a win to remember, especially since it came without Jeffress, the reliable closer who has converted 19 of 20 save opportunities, and until last weekend had not surrendered a run or a walk in a road game.

Jeffress reported to Dodger Stadium on Sunday with a case of pinkeye and said he was having trouble focusing his right eye. Three days later, the condition had only marginally improved.

"His vision is a little bit affected, so we wanted to stay away from him today," manager Craig Counsell said.

Brewers starter Junior Guerra did his part with seven solid innings and was so effective as his pitch count approached 100 that Counsell left him in the game to face tough A's pinch-hitter Stephen Vogt with two outs in the seventh and the A's within a run at 3-2. With the tying runner at second base, Guerra ended the threat with his eighth strikeout.

It marked the seventh time in nine games on the trip that the Brewers were tied or ahead in the sixth inning or later. For only the second time, it led to a victory.

Smith and Thornburg combined to cover the final two innings, each facing high-leverage situations when the A's put runners aboard. After hitting leadoff hitter Billy Burns in the foot with a breaking ball, Smith struck out Coco Crisp and retired Jed Lowrie on a screaming line drive to third base that left Lowrie's bat at 96 mph, according to Statcast™. Thornburg then took over and retired Danny Valencia on a line drive to left-center at 103 mph.

"Baseball evens out," Thornburg said with a shrug, pointing to the well-placed hits in San Francisco which had burned Brewers relievers at the start of the trip.

He returned to the mound for the ninth and found trouble with a two-out walk. The A's inserted pinch-hitter Billy Butler, who pounced on the first pitch and sent a deep flyout to left.

"Right when I stepped on the mound, I felt the wind blowing in pretty good," Thornburg said. "I was like, 'No, I'm not going to fall behind here by trying to make too good of a pitch.' I kind of smiled right when he hit it, because I figured it would do exactly what it did."

Butler's fly ball hung up in that wind before settling in Ryan Braun's glove.

"It was nice to get this one and get some confidence back under our belts," Smith said. "We've had some close games, but that's how we're all wired down there. We enjoy those kind of situations with the game on the line. That's why we're down there. We're kind of crazy, but that's all right."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.