After bats awaken late, Brewers hold off Astros

After bats awaken late, Brewers hold off Astros

After bats awaken late, Brewers hold off Astros
MILWAUKEE -- Maybe Stan Kyles was the lucky one Monday night. He was relieved of his duties as bullpen coach in the morning, so he wasn't sitting there, holding his breath while Brewers relievers threatened to fritter away another win.

No, Kyles was beginning some time away from baseball when Livan Hernandez suffered the Brewers' 21st blown save, when Kameron Loe couldn't record an out and John Axford came within a hair of losing a lead for the third time in two days.

The bullpen is Lee Tunnell's responsibility beginning Tuesday. At least he joins a team coming off a victory.

Axford was bailed out by one of the best game-ending plays you'll ever see, a grounder to the hole at shortstop that was gobbled up by Cesar Izturis and scooped at first base by Corey Hart, retiring the runner by an inch, stranding another at third base and giving the Brewers an 8-7 win over the Astros at Miller Park.

"That's what makes it fun. That's what makes it horrible. That's what we signed up for," said Cody Ransom, whose eighth-inning, three-run home run proved the difference.

That may be, but you wonder how much more of this manager Ron Roenicke can take before he either loses his mind or wears a dirt path to the pitcher's mound. The day before, Milwaukee relievers blew a 7-3 lead in the eighth and a 9-7 lead in the ninth before losing in the 11th.

"When you're watching these games every day, you can't feel like it's going to keep happening every day," Roenicke said. "If you do that, then you lose all faith in all your guys, and I'm not going to do that."

It's not easy.

"It's tough," Roenicke said. "It's tough every night."

It's tough because the Brewers have one of baseball's worst bullpens, a stunning thing considering so many of the names are unchanged from the team's magical 2011 season. How much have things changed? On Monday, Francisco Rodriguez started warming up with the Brewers trailing, 3-0, then sat down after they tied the game. This is a pitcher with 294 career saves.

Milwaukee had been shut down to that point by Houston starter Bud Norris, who surrendered only two infield hits over the first six innings -- one of which was initially ruled an error on shortstop Marwin Gonzalez, and another that could have arguably been ruled the same.

But Milwaukee's offense sprung to life in the bottom of the seventh against Norris and reliever Francisco Cordero, taking a 4-3 lead with a rally that included Nyjer Morgan's two-run home run, the Brewers' first clean hit of the night and Morgan's first homer since hitting one in back-to-back games on June 1 and 3.

Enter Hernandez, who promptly became the seventh different Milwaukee reliever to be saddled with a blown save this season.

The Brewers lead the Majors in blown saves, one of the ugly statistics that led to Kyles' dismissal. Astros right fielder Steve Pearce tied the game at 4 with a double, and Scott Moore, who had homered an inning earlier, nearly went deep again. Instead, his fly ball died at the right field warning track.

Tied at 4, the Brewers pushed ahead again with another four-run inning, the big blow coming on Ransom's booming three-run homer for an 8-4 lead.

Hernandez returned for the ninth, suddenly in line for the win.

"When Cody hit the homer, I thought, 'Here we go, we've got one more [inning], we'll just win it nice and clean.'" Roenicke said. "Didn't happen again."

Hernandez was pulled with one out, after a walk and an RBI single. Loe walked a man and surrendered an RBI double, putting the tying run in scoring position.

Newcomer Jim Henderson was off-limits after pitching three of the last four days, so Roenicke was forced to call for Axford, though he had been removed as closer last month and had thrown 33 pitches in Sunday's loss to the Nationals. Axford surrendered a long sacrifice fly to Pearce that pushed the tying runner to third base. He then hit Brett Wallace in the backside, which qualified as a lucky break considering a wild pitch would have scored the tying run for the second straight game.

Astros left fielder J.D. Martinez followed with a grounder to the left side. Izturis made a diving, backhanded stop, popped up and threw a one-hopper to first. The baseball took a big hop and Hart made a snow-cone catch.

Hart glanced at his glove to see whether it held the baseball. Umpire Brian Knight's call was "out," and replays showed he was right.

"I thought I had it," Martinez said. "I was arguing it, but I thought it could have gone either way. You have to tip your hat because the guy made an amazing play on it. It was bang-bang."

Said Izturis: "Give credit to Corey. He has played first base so good."

The Brewers won for only the second time in 11 games; the Astros fell to 10-42 in road games.

"We've had so many games like this that have gone against us," Hart said. "Maybe this is the momentum we need."

Considering his own struggles and the fact so many of his bullpen mates were feeling the same way, Axford -- who notched his first save since July 15 -- counted this as a big win. Last week, Brewers relievers lost late leads in all three games at Philadelphia, including two blown saves for Rodriguez.

"Once it came to the 'out' punch by the umpire over there, I felt like we just won Game 5 of the NL [Division Series]," said Axford, who blew a save in that game before the Brewers beat the D-backs in 10 innings."I don't think I've ever fist-pumped as hard as I did out there for a save."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.