Reds' two-out rally in ninth stuns Axford, Brewers

Reds' two-out rally in ninth stuns Axford, Brewers

Reds' two-out rally in ninth stuns Axford, Brewers
CINCINNATI -- They're all big right now for the Brewers. But Thursday's game was particularly big and the Brewers knew it, with the Cardinals idle and a half-game right there for the taking in the chase for the National League's second Wild Card spot.

Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke did not mince words afterward.

"This was a game we could not afford to lose," he said.

The Brewers did lose. They were one out away from a 1-0 win when Cincinnati's Todd Frazier hit a tying, two-out home run off John Axford, and Jay Bruce and Dioner Navarro finished the job. After Bruce singled, Navarro hit a walk-off triple that beat the Brewers, 2-1, at Great American Ball Park.

Wily Peralta's quality -- albeit injury-interrupted -- start and Carlos Gomez's contributions with his bat, glove and arm were wasted in a crushing blow to the Brewers' postseason hopes. Instead of beginning the season's final homestand on Friday night three games behind St. Louis, the Brewers are four back with six games to play. They also trail the Dodgers by one game.

Roenicke called the one-game swing a "huge difference."

"Things have been going well, we've been coming together as a team really well, and today is just a crushing loss," Axford said. "It hurts. We put ourselves in a tough spot now."

Axford was in a good spot after striking out Zack Cozart and Joey Votto to begin the bottom of the ninth inning, Votto swinging under two high fastballs. That left Axford one out shy of converting a 16th consecutive save opportunity. Frazier represented that final out, a rookie who was 1-for-12 with eight strikeouts so far in the series and who had not homered in his last 108 plate appearances since Aug. 21.

The first pitch to Frazier was supposed to be down and away, but it was up instead, and he hammered it to straightaway center field for the game-tying blast.

Bruce followed by poking a single through the left side before Axford engaged Navarro in a nine-pitch battle. Navarro hit two fastballs for homer-distance foul balls, so Axford tried a curveball, and Navarro hit it into the right-center field gap, between center fielder Gomez and right fielder Norichika Aoki.

For a moment, Axford believed Aoki might have a play. Instead, the baseball dropped to the turf, and Bruce, breaking from first base on the fourth straight full-count pitch, scored relatively easily.

"Even if I dove for it, I definitely wouldn't have been able to get to the ball," Aoki said. "If I had a chance to catch it, then I would have dove for the ball, so the only other chance was getting the ball and trying to throw it back."

The blown save was Axford's ninth this season, but first since Aug. 10. The Brewers have 28 blown saves, most in the Majors, but they have mostly been getting terrific relief while winning 26 of their last 36 games.

"This is probably the worst I've felt all year," Axford said. "I'm just glad I went after them the way I used to, without putting guys on. I went after hitters throwing strikes. It's just tough that that one pitch was left up [to Frazier]."

The Reds have already punched their postseason ticket by locking up the NL Central. Thursday starter Mat Latos was unmoved when asked about dealing a blow to the Brewers' chances to join the party.

"We're not worried about who is going to make the playoffs and who isn't going to make the playoffs," Latos said. "We know what we have to do. We know we're in there. We know that we have to continue to win regardless of who we're playing. It's the way baseball goes. We grind. We battle. We got the 'W' today and we're trying to get the best record in the National League now. It doesn't matter who we're facing."

Latos and Peralta dueled for much of the afternoon, Peralta allowing only two singles in 5 1/3 scoreless innings before a tight biceps forced him out, and Latos allowing only three hits and one Brewers run -- on a Gomez homer -- through seven strong innings.

Gomez had a big day. He robbed Reds slugger Bruce of extra bases with a leaping catch at the center-field warning track in the bottom of the second, then homered off Latos leading off the third. Gomez believes it was the first opposite-field home run of his Major League career.

In the top of the fifth, Gomez singled and stole his 36th base. In the bottom of the fifth, he ran a long way to the right-center field cap to take away a hit from Drew Stubbs, then threw to first base to complete an inning-ending double play.

When Peralta went down with one out in the sixth inning, the Brewers' bullpen took over. Brandon Kintzler finished the sixth inning, and Francisco Rodriguez and Jim Henderson preserved the 1-0 lead into the ninth.

Milwaukee missed an opportunity in the top of the inning, when it had runners at first and third base with one out but did not score, and the Reds capitalized.

"That's a game that you should win," third baseman Aramis Ramirez said. "It didn't happen. Axford is throwing the ball really well, and tonight, he didn't get the job done. That's the bottom line."

Now the Brewers must regroup for the season's final homestand. It begins Friday night against the Astros.

"It's not done," Gomez said. "We have to continue playing. Baseball is crazy, and you don't know what will happen."

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.