Brewers knocked out of playoff race as Fiers falters

Brewers knocked out of playoff race as Fiers falters

Brewers knocked out of playoff race as Fiers falters
MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers' spirited run came to a quiet end on Sunday.

So quiet that manager Ron Roenicke was having a very difficult time locating any silver linings.

The Astros smashed four home runs off sagging starter Mike Fiers and beat the Brewers, 7-0, in front of 38,443 fans at Miller Park who saw the home team formally eliminated from postseason contention. Roenicke knew his Brewers faced impossibly long odds, but didn't foresee them falling twice in three games against a Houston team with baseball's worst record.

"It's just hard right now," he said. "To play as well as we did to get back in it, this was a very disappointing series for me."

They were knocked out by Jordan Lyles, a right-hander who surrendered only four hits, two of which didn't leave the infield, and did what no Brewers pitcher has done since the fifth game of 2011 -- he started a game and finished it, too. Lyles pitched his first shutout, his first complete game, and he hit his first home run as a bonus.

If that was a punch in the gut on an already difficult day, so was this: The Cardinals scored five runs in the second inning and cruised to a win over Washington that would have bounced the Brewers from the postseason picture, anyway.

Milwaukee simply ran out of momentum. Sunday's loss was its sixth in nine games following a 24-6 run that propelled the team into contention, pushing them within 1 1/2 games of the Cardinals at one point for the National League's second Wild Card spot.

That run of success saved a season that appeared lost when the Brewers traded away Zack Greinke in late July, or when they slipped to 12 games under .500 on Aug. 19. The comeback meant they were able to play meaningful baseball in Game No. 159 of 162, and with one more victory in their season-ending series against the Padres, they can finish with a winning record.

"It was amazing, the run that we went on to get into contention," Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun said. "I think that we're all proud of that. Ultimately, we're disappointed we didn't end up back in the postseason, but it certainly wasn't for a lack of effort."

How will he remember 2012?

"I'll look back at it as a positive, for sure," he said. "For all if us, I think it speaks volumes about our character and resiliency to get back in this thing. ... Considering everything that we've gone through, considering we were 12 games under [.500] in August, to get back to the point we were 'in it' until literally today, with three games left, I think is something we can look at and be somewhat proud of."

Third baseman Aramis Ramirez was not yet sure how he'd look back on his first year in Milwaukee.

"Last year, this team won 96 games; this year we have 81 wins so far," Ramirez said. "We'll see how we finish."

At some point they will shift focus to 2013, when Milwaukee will reboot with an offense almost totally intact, but a new-look pitching staff populated by young arms.

One of them is Fiers, who worked his way into the plan by pitching to a 1.80 ERA and a .218 opponents' batting average in his first 13 appearances, including 12 starts, with only 16 walks and three home runs in 80 innings.

But in his last 10 starts, Fiers posted a 6.99 ERA, a .308 opponents' average, and walked 20 batters and surrendered nine home runs in 47 2/3 innings. In six September starts, he had a 7.09 ERA.

"I'm hoping he remembers the start, and all the good games he pitched in a row," Roenicke said. "Today, I thought he came out throwing the ball really well."

In fact, Fiers said it was the best he'd felt all year, but he fell behind in the third inning when Tyler Greene doubled home the game's first run after an error charged to Brewers first baseman Hart.

Then came the homers. Fernando Martinez hit a two-out, solo blast in the fourth inning, one pitch after Fiers' two-strike curveball was called just high by home-plate umpire Joe West. Lyles hit his first career home run with one out in the fifth inning, a no-doubter to the left-field bleachers. Jed Lowrie and Matt Dominguez hit back-to-back home runs leading off the sixth for a 5-0 lead.

Fiers' final pitching line: Six innings, six hits, five earned runs, one walk and 10 strikeouts, matching his career high. He struck out five of the first seven batters he faced before running into trouble with a third-inning walk.

Lyles entered the afternoon with a 4-12 record and a 5.44 ERA, but against him on Sunday, the Brewers managed only one runner past first base -- Carlos Gomez, who singled leading off the sixth inning, but was eventually stranded at third.

The Astros again played spoiler to a team with postseason hopes.

"As a manager, you're just competing," Astros interim skipper Tony DeFrancesco said. "Philadelphia, we beat them three out of four, we beat Pittsburgh two out of three and beat these guys two out of three. The spoiler role is not my big deal. I'd rather be going [to the playoffs], but right now at this time in the Astros' season that's our best motivational tool right now."

The Pirates and Phillies faced the same challenge as the Brewers -- continuing to play loose when the stakes are suddenly high.

"I think we kind of got a little tighter as far as, 'We need to win. We need to win,'" Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "It didn't work out for us. That's a tough spot to be in, but we put ourselves there earlier in the year.

"We can't blame anybody but ourselves. All you can do is keep working hard and come back next year and try to get back going again."

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.