Lucroy's second homer lifts Crew to walk-off win
MILWAUKEE -- As Jonathan Lucroy's second home run of the night sailed over the left-field wall for a walk-off Brewers' victory on Tuesday night, it looked like a sign that the backstop -- and, more important, his team -- were finally getting back on track.
Lucroy's heroics lifted the Brewers to a 4-3 victory over the division-rival Reds and gave them their first series victory since they took three of four from the Rockies from June 26-29. With the Cardinals falling to the Rays, the Brewers' stretched their lead in the National League Central to 1 1/2 games.
"To be honest with you, the last couple of weeks have been kind of tough for making solid contact, but I'm glad to help the team out, contribute and get it done tonight," Lucroy said. "Hopefully, it's a sign of things to come. If we can keep playing this good, if guys keep pitching this good and we keep getting big at-bats, we'll get the job done."
It wasn't just Lucroy struggling; the last couple of weeks have been tough for the entire team. Milwaukee had lost 13 of 16 entering this homestand and saw the 6 1/2-game lead it had on July 1 completely disappear before the All-Star break. The team had lost five straight series before this one despite having the fourth-best winning percentage in the NL.
Lucroy had a .164/.254/.309 slash line in July before Tuesday night's outburst, but manager Ron Roenicke felt his All-Star catcher was getting back on track, and the evidence was there on Tuesday.
"I thought when he hit it, it had a chance to go out," Roenicke said. "I know he's frustrated because he felt like he's been squaring up some balls. He wasn't locked in, but today, obviously, was a big day."
All four of the Brewers' runs would come on solo home runs by veterans: Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez put the Brewers on the board with back-to-back shots in the first, and Lucroy hit a round-tripper in the sixth before the walk-off in the ninth. They would be enough to lift Milwaukee to its second straight victory over Cincinnati, a team that beat the Brewers seven times in their first 10 meetings this season.
The veterans' bats picked up rookie starter Jimmy Nelson, who allowed two hits over his first six innings before allowing the Reds to tie it with a lapse in the seventh. Ryan Ludwick and Brayan Pena hit back-to-back singles to start the frame. The next batter, Zack Cozart, squared up for a bunt and was hit by a pitch. Roenicke challenged the call, as it looked as though the ball hit Cozart's bat before hitting his hand, but the call was confirmed, loading the bases.
Nelson then hit Ramon Santiago with a pitch to drive in a run and was lifted for Brandon Kintzler, who allowed a game-tying sacrifice fly to Chris Heisey before inducing an inning-ending double play. Zach Duke and Francisco Rodriguez each pitched a scoreless inning to set the stage for the walk-off.
"Nice job. I know [Kintzler] got a pitch up to Heisey that we were fortunate he hit right at us to left field. Then a nice pitch to get [Billy] Hamilton," Roenicke said. "We've got to have those guys coming in and throwing well. Duke was great, [Rodriguez] comes in and does his job. It was a nice job down there."
Despite the seventh-inning lapse, it was a huge improvement for Nelson over his first start in the rotation, on July 12, when St. Louis rocked him.
"I was more focused this time. I was getting ahead of hitters better, trusting Lucroy and just trusting our defense. They put up a few big runs for us," Nelson said. "It's an adjustment any time you are at a new level. You have to take baby steps. I've been working on stuff between starts. There are definitely some positives to build on."
Although he was certainly pleased with the team's performance in the first two games of this seven-game homestand, Roenicke doesn't seem ready to settle for the series victory.
"We've played two good ballgames," he said. "We need to come out tomorrow and play a third."