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Ouch, even if it’s only the opener

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Michael Hunt
April 1, 2011
— Losing badly is part of baseball. During the course of 162 games, the Milwaukee Brewers are going to experience any number of just the sort of epic meltdown that occurred to them Thursday.

And then, such esteem-busters tend to fade somewhat painlessly into the backdrop of a long, long season.


But, of course, Thursday is going to loiter in a fanís memory bank for all the reasons that make the pageantry of the first game of a season in baseballís oldest city an occasion to remember.


The question is how long the Brewers, their closer and their first-year manager will allow the dispiriting sensation to linger.


It might help if they didnít have the built-in weather buffer Friday to chew on the 7-6 bottom-of-the-ninth loss to the Cincinnati Reds, but mentally rolling with it is just as important as throwing strikes.


John Axford knows it as well as anyone. He was waiting at his locker for the inquisitors not long after he gave up the three-run homer to Ramon Hernandez that caused Reds manager Dusty Baker to dance in the home dugout as if it were 2010 all over again.


ďWeíll have a little workout tomorrow,Ē Axford said. ďMaybe Iíll look at a little video. It will be out of my mind and ready to go for Saturday. Thatís for sure. I think thatís the best thing and the easiest thing.


ďItís the best thing I did last year when something like this happened. Just let it go. Tomorrowís another day. We have 161 games left. Iím pretty sure weíre going to be all right.Ē


Itís easy to say they will, because only a madman would base the outcome of a season on the first of 162.


Then again, thereís never a good time to give the defending division champs, who made a living last season on just that sort of final at-bat revivals, the chance to make another mosh pit at the plate.


Especially in Cincinnati, where they celebrate opening day the same way other places do a World Series titleówith a parade.


And not when the Brewers had convinced themselves during a productive off-season that theyíll be right there with the Reds come October. And they just might if they keep crushing the ball like they did Thursdayóthree homers, including back-to-backers to open the gameóand getting the starting pitching like Yovani Gallardo gave them against Cincinnati.


But is it too early to ask whether Axford is the right guy with whom to entrust a three-run lead in the ninth?


Yes . . . and no. General manager Doug Melvin mentioned during the final week of spring training that he picked up Takashi Saito in the event the Brewers had to look elsewhere for closing duties.


It might be a little premature for such thoughts, but itís a fact that Axford, who had never been a closer before saving 24 last season as a solution to the end of Trevor Hoffmanís Hall of Fame career, never seemed quite right after starting spring training with a case of food poisoning.


Maybe heíll get it back, maybe he wonít. Time will tell. But what the rookie skipper cannot afford right now is for any of this to fester.


Whether or not Brandon Phillips was out of the baseline in that fateful ninth, itís over and done.


ďIt was a rough start,Ē Ron Roenicke admitted, showing he has an ability for understatement right out of the box.


This isnít football. This isnít the time for Roenicke to make anybody run the steps at Great American Ball Park on the day off. But he has to deal with it, even if it is the first of 162.


How?


ďIt depends,Ē he said. ďIíll swing by them tomorrow and say a little something. Iíll swing by tomorrow and see how (Axford) is. I donít want to make a big deal out of it. Yes, itís a tough way to start, but we have a long season to go, and I donít want him to worry about it.Ē


Worry isnít necessarily part of the deal. Itís the doing that counts.



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