"I haven't been around the game much, but this is the worst road trip I think I've ever been on, the most disheartening and heartbreaking, too," reliever John Axford said. "All three of the losses here were just really tough."
The latest might have been the most crushing. The Brewers battled back from a 5-1 deficit to tie the game on a two-run homer from Ryan Braun in the eighth inning. They finally caught a break that led to them taking the lead in the top of the 10th inning, only to see closer Francisco Rodriguez blow his second save in three days.
"I don't know what to tell you, man, to be honest with you," Rodriguez said, echoing his remarks after Monday's loss. "I've just gotta take the heat, take the responsibility. We lost the game because of me. Simple as that. It hurts. At this point, I've just gotta be strong and stay positive and not give up. Keep working hard and try and improve."
After getting Ty Wigginton to fly out to lead off the inning, Rodriguez (2-6, 4.80) issued a full-count walk to John Mayberry Jr. Erik Kratz, who started just his third game of the season, doubled down the left-field line to put two runners in scoring position. Carlos Ruiz pinch-hit and hit a sacrifice fly to center field that scored Mayberry and a Jimmy Rollins RBI single ended the game.
Just minutes earlier, it looked like the Brewers were going to pull out a much-needed victory.
To lead off the 10th, Carlos Gomez reached second base on a dropped pop-up by Wigginton, the Phillies' third baseman, and advanced to third on a well-executed sacrifice bunt from Cesar Izturis. Philadelphia intentionally walked Braun to bring up Aramis Ramirez, who hit a sacrifice fly to shallow center that landed in the glove of Phillies second baseman Chase Utley.
"You think 'OK, things are gonna turn [around], we'll finish this game out,' " manager Ron Roenicke said. "And [we] didn't do it again."
With the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline looming, the Brewers have some decisions to make. Wednesday's defeat leaves them 13 games back in the National League Central and 9 1/2 games behind both NL Wild Card spots.
After Rodriguez blew a three-run lead on Monday, Roenicke said he wasn't used to seeing Rodriguez struggle like he has. The skipper still couldn't pinpoint the root of Rodriguez's woes after yet another blown save on Wednesday.
"He got that first hitter out and then threw a couple good fastballs and then got wild with it," Roenicke said. "So I don't know."
Rodriguez's sixth blown save in nine tries begs the question on whether the Brewers need to go back to Axford, who was removed from the closer role eight days ago. Since the demotion, Axford has looked more comfortable and threw two scoreless innings on Wednesday.
"We'll talk about it," Roenicke said about possibly switching closers again.
Prior to the 10th, the Brewers' beleaguered bullpen pitched great. After Marco Estrada's struggles led to his exit after just four innings, Tyler Thornburg, Livan Hernandez and Axford combined to throw five scoreless innings. The improved performance came hours after a pregame meeting between Roenicke, pitching coach Rick Kranitz and the relief corps.
"We went 5 2/3 [innings] before they scored a run, so we shut them down," Axford said. "They got a couple guys on here and there and we managed to make the pitches when we needed to and get the outs when we needed to. It just comes down to that one inning. If it's not at the back part of the game, it's not heartbreaking, as it feels right now. If it happened in the fifth or the sixth, then it's just a loss. It doesn't feel as bad as it does right now."