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Hall does it again

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Gazette wire services
April 19, 2008
— Bill Hall might start passing around a petition to play a more unbalanced schedule.

One that has the Milwaukee Brewers facing the Cincinnati Reds—say—weekly.


Major League Baseball probably wouldn’t go for the idea, but Hall would love it. The Brewers third baseman delivered his second clutch two-run hit in two games against the Reds. The latest, a double, pushed the Brewers to a 5-3, 10-inning victory Saturday at Great American Ball Park.


For his career, Hall is hitting .313 (80-for-256) with 52 RBIs against the Reds. He has hit safely in all five games against Cincinnati this season, with three home runs, including a two-run shot Friday that cemented a victory.


“I just feel comfortable when I come to play here,” said Hall, who also punishes the Reds at Miller Park. “That puts an ease to my mind. I don’t have to come here and put any pressure on myself.


“Bill Hall’s been a thorn in our side for a long time,” manger Dusty Baker said.


The third baseman feels so comfortable at Great American Ball Park that whenever he comes to bat, he expects something good to happen. This weekend series has been just the latest installment. Milwaukee has scored 10 runs in the two games. Hall has driven in half of them.


“I always seem to do something when I play them,” Hall said.


Hall’s big shot came in the top of the 10th with Craig Counsell on second base and Prince Fielder on first. Hall, hitting in the sixth spot in the order for the second straight game, got ahead of Cincinnati reliever David Weathers, 2-0, but eventually ran the count full.


With the entire sequence of pitches away, Hall looked for location and got an 84-mph slider on the outside corner and drove it into the right-center field gap to score both runners.


“He’s swinging great,” Brewers manager Ned Yost said. “I kind of like him in that sixth spot because there is going to be so many RBI opportunities for him to pick up like he did today.”


Hall said he doesn’t care where he hits, as long as he can look out and see runners waiting for him to drive them home.


“As long as I’m playing,” Hall said. “I got guys that can run in front of me and guys that are going to get on base. As long as I’m getting RBI opportunities, it doesn’t matter where I’m hitting.”


The pitch Hall hit might have been off the plate, but home-plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt had a wide and low strike zone. And at the end of a day that saw players on both teams complain and two Reds players ejected for arguing balls and strikes, Hall knew he couldn’t take a chance.


“The umpire was being more generous than normal,” Hall said. “So you have to expand your zone.”


Brewers starter Jeff Suppan got some calls because of the stretched strike zone, as did Reds starter Johnny Cueto. Suppan kept his pitch count and the ball down, playing into Wendelstedt’s area, although Suppan said he wasn’t adjusting his game plan to get any calls.


He allowed a leadoff double in the fourth inning to Jeff Keppinger, who later scored on a Ken Griffey Jr. groundout.


Besides that blemish, Suppan retired the Reds in order in the first, third, fifth and sixth innings. He got the first two batters in the seventh before Edwin Encarnacion squeezed a single past shortstop J.J. Hardy, which made Yost go to his bullpen.


Suppan gave up three hits, two runs and a walk in his 6q innings.


“It was a good run,” he said. “I was throwing strikes. That’s what I had going for me, not one pitch in particular. I was able to stay in the zone and use the defense.”


The defense couldn’t do much to stop Joey Votto’s game-tying home run, though. Once Suppan exited, Yost went to left-hander Brian Shouse, who had retired all 11 runners he had inherited this season, to face the left-handed Votto.


On the second pitch, Shouse left a changeup down and in, the classic lefty wheelhouse, and Votto banged it into the seats in right field, tying the game, 3-3. Before that, Shouse had not allowed a home run since Sept. 22, 2006—543 innings and 83 appearances.


“Sometimes it happens,” Yost said. “‘Shousie’ has been as good as anybody in the league, not only on our team. It just shows you, you’re playing with the best players in the world.


“You just have to recover from it and make it up. And we did it.”


The Brewers have gotten good at keeping their composure after blowing a lead. They’re 4-0 in extra innings this season.


“That’s their nature,” Yost said. “That’s what they are. That’s who they are.”


Guillermo Mota (1-0) pitched two perfect innings, and Eric Gagne finished off a combined four-hitter for his second save in the series. After a rough start, Gagne has converted his last five chances, leaving him 6-for-8 overall.


Griffey Jr. went 0-for-4 with a run-scoring groundout. He remains four homers shy of 600, with five games left on Cincinnati’s homestand.


Votto’s homer spared Cueto from a loss. The 22-year-old starter has been one of April’s biggest surprises, piling up strikeouts with his 96 mph fastball.


The big question is how he will fare once teams have gotten familiar with him. The Brewers were the first team to see him a second time around. They managed two runs off him in a 3-2, 10-inning win on April 8.


The result was similar.


“He was great,” catcher Paul Bako said. “He left a pitch up (on the homer), but other than that, he gave us a great chance to win. We just didn’t score enough runs. With our lineup, we know we’re going to turn it around. I just hope it’s sooner rather than later.”


Cueto struck out four of the first eight he faced. Corey Hart, who struck out in all three at-bats against Cueto in Milwaukee, caught up with a fastball on his first swing Saturday, sending it over the wall in center for his first homer.


In his case, familiarity helped.


Prince Fielder doubled into the gap in left-center in the fourth inning, another sign he’s emerging from his slow start. Hall had an RBI single to left, and Adam Dunn’s throwing error on the play set up a sacrifice fly by Gabe Gross that made it 3-0.



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