Brewers, Woodruff stunned in Cleveland

September 6th, 2020

Television cameras caught the look on Brewers ace Brandon Woodruff’s face as José Ramírez circled the bases. It might best be described as disbelief, a visage Woodruff has worn before this season.

A lot happened on Saturday after Woodruff wore that look.

Keston Hiura and Orlando Arcia homered to lift the Brewers back into a tie. Devin Williams pitched two more dominant innings to keep his absurd strikeout rate in excess of two per inning. And Josh Hader finally allowed a 2020 hit after setting a Major League record with 12 hitless outings to start the season -- a double leading off the bottom of the ninth inning for Indians nine-hole hitter Oscar Mercado, who took third on a wild pitch and scored on Cesar Hernandez’s single through a drawn-in infield to settle a 4-3 Brewers loss at Progressive Field.

All of that happened while Woodruff was digesting another promising start gone sideways. For all that transpired next, this fact remained: The Brewers aren’t consistently winning games with their No. 1 starter on the mound.

“I’m still doing OK, but not getting through five innings is kind of a disgrace,” Woodruff said. “I hold myself to a pretty high standard.”

The loss denied the Brewers a chance to break even at .500 -- a mark they still have not exceeded this season. And it dropped Milwaukee from postseason position just 24 hours after climbing back into the picture thanks to five victories in its previous seven games.

The Brewers are 4-5 this season behind Woodruff after winning 18 of his 22 starts a year ago, when the right-hander was a National League All-Star. He was burned by Ramírez’s two-run home run, the big blow of Cleveland’s go-ahead three-run fifth inning, souring Woodruff’s first start back from the birth of his first child, and undermining all of the hard work he’d put in to keep the Indians off the scoreboard to that point.

For Woodruff, it was a repeat of past starts this season.

Like Aug. 14 at Wrigley Field, where Woodruff carried a 1-0 lead -- and a no-hitter -- into the fifth inning, retired the first batter, then saw the Cubs go single, single, tying single, walk, go-ahead walk and RBI single to chase him from the game in a 3-1 deficit. The Brewers came back to win, 4-3.

Or the start six days later at Target Field, where Woodruff was pitching in a 1-0 deficit in the fifth when another night ended abruptly. Four of the final six hitters he faced that night got a hit. Another walked. The Brewers went on to lose, 7-1.

Then there was his start previous to Saturday’s, when Woodruff gave up four runs on four hits in five innings of a 5-1 loss to the Pirates at Miller Park.

“This was probably one of the better games I've thrown this year and to come out of it still giving up four runs is one of those things that completely blows my mind,” Woodruff said that day. “I don't understand it. Sometimes, baseball just gets you.”

On Saturday, baseball got him again.

Give credit to the opponent, too.

After battling his command and a high pitch count in the first three innings, Woodruff got swinging strikeouts against all three batters he faced in the fourth. Woodruff opened the fifth with another swinging strikeout, making it four in a row. But then he walked Mercado after being ahead in the count, 0-2 -- “That was the defining moment of the game,” Woodruff said -- and surrendered a tying double to Hernandez after falling behind in the count, 2-0.

Following a mound visit, Woodruff engaged Ramírez in a 10-pitch battle that produced the tie-breaking home run. Woodruff again worked ahead in the count, 0-2, but Ramírez stayed alive by fouling off three straight pitches, then taking a slider for ball one, then fouling off three more pitches.

Finally, Woodruff got just enough of home plate with a four-seam fastball that Ramírez was able to keep it fair. His home run to the right-field seats gave the Indians a 3-1 lead. The fly ball had an expected batting average of .090, according to Statcast, which explains Woodruff’s shocked look.

“I went back and watched the pitch and I didn’t get it in as good as I needed to,” Woodruff said. “But in that moment, the sound off the bat, the flight of the ball was a lazy popup to right field in my eyes.”

Another promising start had gone south. And while the Brewers battled back, they lost in walk-off fashion when somebody finally got to Hader.

“It was going to end,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “What he did -- we’re 35 games into the season and he hadn’t given up a hit. Give Mercado credit. He’s hitting ninth and he was a big part of their offense tonight.”

“I have to take the positives from it and figure out what is leading me to get into this trouble,” Woodruff said. “It shouldn’t happen. I should be throwing six [to] seven innings every night -- and it’s eating me alive right now.”