Brewers bullpen melts down twice in loss to Cubs

Brewers bullpen melts down twice in loss to Cubs

Brewers bullpen melts down twice in loss to Cubs
CHICAGO -- Jonathan Lucroy hit a grand slam for four of his club-record-tying seven RBIs, Ryan Braun and Cody Ransom each finished a triple shy of the cycle, Rickie Weeks had a career-high five hits and the Brewers scored 11 runs.

It wasn't enough.

Livan Hernandez and Manny Parra combined to squander a six-run lead in the sixth inning, and Francisco Rodriguez lost a two-run lead in the ninth as the Cubs stormed back to win Thursday's finale, 12-11, and avoid a four-game sweep.

"That didn't have a good feel to it," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "Once we got the big lead and then they came back, it just didn't have a good feel."

Alfonso Soriano's game-winning single with one out in the bottom of the ninth denied the Brewers what would have been their first-ever four-game sweep of their Interstate 94 rivals, and their first six-win road trip in more than four years.

The loss snapped both Rodriguez's eight-outing hitless streak and ended a seven-game stretch during which the resurgent Brewers' bullpen had a 1.42 ERA. It also ended the Brewers' eight-game winning streak against the rebuilding Cubs.

"To put some runs up like we did, and kind of give it all up, it's tough to be part of," said Lucroy, who was behind the plate for all 205 Brewers' pitches. "A fun game offensively, but defensively we didn't cut it."

That has been the story of the season for the Brewers, who took two more blown saves on Thursday -- Parra in the sixth inning and Rodriguez in the ninth -- and have 25 this season, most in the Majors. Last year, on the way to a franchise-record 96 wins and the National League Central title, the Brewers had only 19 blown saves.

Hernandez and Parra combined to allow six Cubs runs on four hits and four walks in a long sixth inning that began with the Brewers ahead, 9-3.

Milwaukee reclaimed the lead in the seventh on Ransom's tiebreaking home run, and Brewers reliever Jim Henderson held it in the eighth.

But Rodriguez, seeking his 295th career save and pitching because closer John Axford was deemed unavailable, could not make it last. Axford had thrown only 24 total pitches in converting save chances the previous two days, but Roenicke said the Brewers were playing it safe because he'd thrown 35 pitches in a tough outing earlier on the trip.

David DeJesus started the winning rally with a one-out double that ended Rodriguez's streak of eight consecutive hitless appearances, and Rodriguez then walked Luis Valbuena -- the 11th walk issued by a Brewers pitcher in the game, a season-high.

"When we can walk 11 times, you know there was some grinding going on in nine innings," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "There were some great at-bats, and guys saw a lot of pitches and got in great counts, and ended up getting hits in a lot of situations."

The hits came in bunches in the ninth. Starlin Castro poked an RBI single to center field to put the winning run on base, Anthony Rizzo doubled down the first-base line to put the winning run in scoring position and Soriano belted a line drive that one-hopped the wall in left-center field to win the game.

Twice, Rodriguez was one pitch away from the second out of the inning. He worked 0-2 counts against both Valbuena and Castro before those hitters worked the count full. Valbuena took an eight-pitch walk. Castro singled on the seventh pitch of his at-bat.

"They put on great at-bats. I have to give credit to them," Rodriguez said. "Valbuena, he kept fouling off pitches, fouling off. Castro did the same thing [before] a ground ball that found the hole. You know the rest."

Rodriguez had been so excellent since a brief and unsuccessful stint as the Brewers' closer, it begged the question whether his quest for 300 saves was getting in the way.

He quickly dismissed that notion.

"I've been doing that for all my career, so it should be no different. It's not different," Rodriguez said.

He was not the only Brewers pitcher to struggle. Starter Shaun Marcum threw 85 pitches and allowed three runs in four hard-fought innings before cramping in his right calf forced him from the game.

Hernandez took over for the fifth and saw Milwaukee's lead grow to 9-3 before the Cubs mounted the first of their comebacks in the sixth inning. Hernandez was charged with five runs in the inning. Parra forced home one run with a bases-loaded walk, then surrendered a tying, two-run double to left-handed-hitting Cubs outfielder Brett Jackson, Jackson's second double of the frame.

The Brewers missed an opportunity to short-circuit the rally much earlier, when first baseman Corey Hart misread a Valbuena grounder as a hit and moved into cutoff position. Instead, second baseman Weeks made a terrific diving stop, but had nowhere to throw.

The play loomed large when the Cubs scored their final three runs in the inning with two outs.

The six runs marked the Brewers' biggest blown lead in a loss. They blew a five run lead at Philadelphia on July 24 when Parra and Kameron Loe could not hold a 6-1 lead in the eighth inning of what became a 7-6 Brewers loss.

Braun's fourth-inning home run hit a bank of cameras high above the ivy-covered wall. With 36 home runs, Braun is seven ahead of current NL runner-up Mike Stanton of the Marlins, whose club was idle on Thursday. With his next homer, Braun will tie the personal best he set in 2008, his first full season in the Majors.

Lucroy, who hit a grand slam in the third inning, a two-run single in the sixth and an RBI single in the eighth, became the first player in Brewers history to log a pair of seven-RBI games in his career.

"I don't care about that," Lucroy said. "We lost the game, so it don't mean diddly."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. 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.