Bullpen lets one get away
Pitching for the third consecutive game Sunday, the Milwaukee Brewers reliever made enough mistakes with his two best pitches, a curveball and changeup, for the Atlanta Braves to score three eighth-inning runs and salvage the final game of the series, 8-7, at Turner Field.
Villanueva was allowed to throw 32 pitches after easy outings in the first two games of 11 and 10 pitches, respectively. With a day off today, Villanueva told Brewers manager Ken Macha he was good for another inning if needed.
“I got asked before the game how I felt and I felt good,” said Villanueva.
Macha knew he had a hot hand in Villanueva, who hadn’t allowed a hit in his last nine innings or a run over his previous 15 appearances. So, Macha passed on Seth McClung and went to Villanueva to set up closer Trevor Hoffman.
“‘Villa’ has been spectacular,” said Macha. “He’s human. I felt good about ‘Villa’ in the eighth. Had they tied it up, I’d be going to McClung. He was my long option.”
The inning started with an infield topper by Martin Prado that Villanueva couldn’t handle and went for a hit. After Kelly Johnson flied out, Villanueva got ahead of pinch-hitter Brian McCann, 0-2, but hung a curveball that McCann banged to right-center for an RBI double.
Pinch-hitter Greg Norton lined out to first, bringing to the plate Nate McLouth, 1 for 10 in his first series with Atlanta. Macha, Villanueva and catcher Jason Kendall discussed the situation on the mound, but Villanueva hung another curveball with the count 1-0 and McLouth drove it to left-center for another RBI double to tie the score.
With a chance to escape with a tied game, Villanueva left a 3-2 changeup up in the strike zone to Yunel Escobar, who smacked an RBI single.
“It was my job to get the ball to ‘Hoffy’ in the ninth inning,” said Villanueva.
“Today, I didn’t get it done. I had a good run there.”
The Brewers had a chance to tie the game when pinch-hitter Casey McGehee led off the ninth with a walk off Braves closer Mike Gonzalez. But, following the strategy he has used all season, Macha declined to bunt with .216 hitter Kendall, who grounded sharply to Prado at first to start a 3-6-3 double play.
Prior to those late developments, it was the Chipper Jones vs. Ryan Braun show. Jones was a one-man wrecking crew against Brewers lefty Manny Parra, driving in five runs with a triple and two home runs.
Jones’ first homer came on a high fastball and the second on a low changeup, pitches that Parra said he put right where he wanted them.
“You tip your cap,” said Parra, who went 5q innings and allowed eight hits and two walks.
Braun socked two-run homers off fastballs from Tommy Hanson in the fourth and sixth innings. Mike Cameron drove another one out for a two-run shot two batters after Braun in the sixth, giving the Brewers a 7-5 lead that didn’t last.
“Anytime you’re seeing somebody for the first time, it takes a little while to pick up his arm angle, see some pitches,” said Braun.
“The first time through the lineup, we wanted to make sure he threw strikes. He obviously had good control. The second time through, we were a little more aggressive.”