Brewers lose ground in WC race after falling in 9th

Williams' latest struggles in 9th put Milwaukee in tough spot with Philly holding tiebreaker

October 2nd, 2022

MILWAUKEE -- For the second time in three days, a Brewers All-Star pitcher saw defeat snatched from the jaws of victory in the late innings, at a time the team cannot afford losses.

On Thursday, it happened to Freddy Peralta with a bang. On Saturday night, it happened to Devin Williams bit by bit. A walk. A stolen base. Another walk. A wild pitch. A base hit here, a fumble there, and a one-run lead turned into a 4-3 loss to the Marlins at American Family Field.

The Brewers fell a game back of the Phillies with four to play in the chase for the National League’s third Wild Card, though the reality is more challenging. The Phils won the season series, 4-2, and thus hold the tiebreaker. Milwaukee must pass Philadelphia in the next four games.

That fact makes losses like Thursday’s, when Peralta had the lead with four outs to go, but lost it on Avisaíl García’s grand slam, and Saturday’s, when Williams inherited a one-run lead with three outs to go and lost it on Bryan De La Cruz’s line-drive single, all the more crushing.

“Regardless, we need to win every game,” Williams said. “I don’t think tonight changes anything; it’s been that way for a week or two now.”

The latest loss wasn’t all on Williams. Brewers hitters were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on base -- all in the final six innings. In the first three games of this series, they are 3-for-21 with RISP. 

Still, they built a one-run lead in the eighth or ninth innings of all three games. Only once has that lead stood up.

“There's 27 outs,” manager Craig Counsell said, “and you've got to get them. We didn't get them before they got some runs across. That's how it works. Offensively, just adding on runs and not making tight games [would help]. But pitching-wise, we've had the guys on the mound that we've wanted.”

On Saturday, Christian Yelich hit his first home run since Sept. 6 and the Brewers had a 3-2 lead by the sixth. It appeared that would be enough to win, as starter Aaron Ashby and the first three relievers – Trevor Gott, Brad Boxberger and Matt Bush – combined to retire 17 of 18 Marlins batters, including 12 in a row before the streak ended with Williams walking speedy leadoff hitter Jon Berti to start the ninth. That spelled trouble.

It was a busy 24 hours for Williams, who was called upon to close Friday’s 1-0 win after Corbin Burnes was done at 103 pitches in eight scoreless innings. Williams got the job done, but he expended a lot of energy in the process. 

Williams needed 27 pitches (only 13 were strikes) and stranded the bases loaded for his 16th save -- most of them compiled after the Brewers opted to trade Josh Hader to the Padres on Aug. 1. One of Williams’ two strikeouts on Friday was against De La Cruz.

“I got some treatment today and felt like I could go,” Williams said.

“I thought the stuff was fine,” Counsell said. “No issue with his stuff. They had some good at-bats.”

That started with Berti, whose seven-pitch plate appearance ended with a long stare at one of Williams’ air-bending changeups just below the zone. Few hitters lay off that pitch. Berti did, and he took first base with a well-earned walk.

The Brewers expected Berti would try to steal second and he did for his Major League-leading 39th stolen base. Williams got an out with a strikeout, but he also walked Brian Anderson to set up a rematch with De La Cruz, who was in a 3-2 count after Williams spiked a changeup for a costly wild pitch. The next pitch was a changeup, again below the zone. De La Cruz lined it past diving third baseman Mike Brosseau for a two-run single.

“It looked like the wild pitch, [Williams] was trying to keep an eye on [Berti] at second and one got away from him. And that really helped us, obviously,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “But he's tough. He's got good stuff, the changeup is filthy. It’s just a matter of trying to get him in the right part of the zone.”

“Maybe in the De La Cruz at-bat, I threw too many changeups, but it was still in a good location,” Williams said. “Props to him. Judging by the swing, he was probably sitting on that. He put a good swing on it and gave them the lead.”

Just barely.

“It was close. Definitely within a foot of my glove,” Brosseau said. “We’re playing ‘in’ in that situation, trying to protect the line a little bit against a double. It’s a tough one, man, when you see it go right by you.”

Said Yelich: “[Williams] has been great for us. He's been so good over the last few years. Stuff's going to happen. If that ball's another foot to the right, Mike probably catches it. It just didn't work out for us and that's how it goes sometimes.”

Yelich knows there is no more room for error.

“We have to try and win as many of the next four as we can and see what happens,” Yelich said.