Surging Brewers rally with 3 in ninth, stun Nats
WASHINGTON The Milwaukee Brewers used a late rally to keep alive their playoff push.
Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez had consecutive RBI hits in the ninth inning off Nationals closer Tyler Clippard and the Milwaukee Brewers extended their season-high winning streak to six games with a 4-2 win over the Washington Nationals on Friday night.
The victory combined with a St. Louis loss moved the Brewers within 1 1-2 games of the Cardinals for the final wild card berth in the National League.
Held to one run over eight innings against Nationals starter Edwin Jackson, the Brewers scored three against Clippard (2-6).
"We have to win games. We're not in a position where we can rely on other people to lose," said Braun, who finished with three hits including two doubles.
"We knew heading into today's game that we finally had an opportunity to pick up a game if we won and it looked improbable, but we found a way again."
Norichika Aoki led off the ninth with bunt single, took second on a passed ball by catcher Jesus Flores and moved to third on Rickie Weeks' fly ball out.
Rather than intentionally walk the reigning National League Most Valuable Player, the Nationals pitched to Braun who promptly singled to left, scoring Aoki. Braun then stole second and came around to score the go-ahead run on Ramirez's double to left. After moving to third on a Clippard wild pitch, Ramirez scored on Travis Ishikawa's infield single.
Jose Veras (5-4) worked one inning in relief and John Axford pitched the ninth for his 32nd save.
"I think anytime you don't score for a long period it seems like the energy is gone, but I watched the way the guys were playing," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "We're still getting after it. I haven't for a long time -- I haven't seen this team just kind of show up. That's not what they're doing."
Despite the loss, Washington's magic number for clinching the NL East fell to seven following Atlanta's loss at Philadelphia. On Thursday, the Nationals clinched the first postseason berth by a Washington baseball team since 1933.
"That one hurt," said Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who admitted he was "tempted" to let Jackson pitch the ninth. Instead he went with Clippard, who only got two outs and allowed three runs on four hits in his fifth blown save on the season and third loss this month. In nine September appearances, he has allowed nine earned runs in 8 1-3 innings.
"I'm trying to figure it out, I'm searching right now," Clippard said. "We'll get it figured out, I'm not too worried about it. I'm still confident as heck. It hurt tonight, I'm not going to lie to you."
Before the game Nationals manager Davey Johnson announced he plans to use Clippard and Drew Storen in the closer role going forward. Clippard has 32 saves this season after taking over for Storen, who underwent elbow surgery this year after recording 43 saves in 2011
Jackson efficiently limited the Brewers before being removed by a pinch-hitter, allowing one run over eight innings, scattering six hits with six strikeouts on 101 pitches. He did not issue a walk for the first time since May 13 at Cincinnati.
Adam LaRoche's two-run homer in the first inning gave Washington the early lead and Bryce Harper's defense kept it that way until the ninth.
The blown save denied Jackson's bid at becoming the fifth Nationals' starter with at least 10 wins this season.
In his longest and most effective start since returning from the disabled list in August, Brewers starter Shaun Marcum worked six innings, allowing two runs on four hits with three strikeouts. He silenced Washington's bats after LaRoche's homer, surrendering only two base hits after the first inning.
With Ryan Zimmerman on first base after a two-out single, LaRoche turned on a 1-1 pitch from Marcum and parked it over the right field wall for his 31st home run, putting Washington ahead 2-0.
Jonathan Lucroy cut the lead in half leading off the second with a towering solo home run to left off Jackson, who responded by striking out the side.
The strong-armed Harper kept the Brewers from tying the game in the fourth.
Braun led off the top of the inning with a double and Ramirez followed with a single to center. With Braun rounding third, Harper charged the grounder and threw a strike to catcher Jesus Flores, who blocked the plate and tagged out the Brewers sliding left fielder.
Ramirez took second on the play and moments later had the opportunity to test the 19-year-olds arm after Lucroy's base hit to center. He declined, remaining on third. Jackson escaped the inning by inducing Ishikawa into a ground ball double play.
Jean Segura singled against Jackson with one-out in the eighth inning. Trying to steal second, Segura was thrown out by Flores on the back-end of a double play as pinch-hitter Corey Hart struck out.
The dramatic conclusion followed.
"This is probably the best team in baseball and has been all year so you know nothing is going to come easy and whenever you're on the road it's that much more challenging," Braun said about beating the 91-win Nationals. "Certainly we've been finding different ways to win -- a lot of guys contributing."
Notes: Before the game, Milwaukee acquired veteran catcher Yorvit Torrealba from Toronto for cash considerations. In 59 games with the Blue Jays and Rangers this season, Torrealba is batting .233 with four homers and 14 RBIs. He is expected to join the team on Saturday. ... Left-hander Gio Gonzalez aims for his 20th win on Saturday while the Brewers counter with righty Wily Peralta.