Lindblom's injury sets tone in Crew's loss

July 29th, 2020

The Brewers lost a pitcher. Then they lost a big lead. Then they lost a ballgame, in a season in which every test of a team’s depth, every missed opportunity to bank a victory, is magnified. 

's return to Major League Baseball on Tuesday night was cut short by back cramps in the fourth inning, not long before the Brewers and Pirates each suffered some brain cramps as part of a wild finish that produced an 8-6 Pittsburgh win at PNC Park. And how’s this for wild: Less than 24 hours after the Brewers erased a four-run deficit to win, they blew a four-run lead to lose.

“These first two games were absolute dogfights,” said Brewers reliever Brent Suter, whose uncharacteristic lapse of command played a role in Pittsburgh’s comeback. “Four-run leads evaporating like that, that’s crazy to happen in back-to-back games.”

Here were the three turning points on Tuesday:

1) Lindblom exits early

This was not the way Josh Lindblom wanted his night to end, not after waiting three years since his last Major League appearance, and six years after his last Major League start. It started as a triumphant return for the 33-year-old, who pitched the past five years in Korea, save for a brief stint with the Pirates in 2017. Lindblom threw nine pitches in a perfect first inning, struck out the side in the second after the first two Pirates batters reached, then breezed through a perfect third on only five pitches.

After Josh Bell grounded out to lead off the fourth, four straight Pirates batters reached safely, including Guillermo Heredia on a two-run single on a slider up in the zone. Lindblom recovered to strike out Cole Tucker for the second time and was working against Pirates catcher John Ryan Murphy when Brewers catcher Manny Piña visited the mound and looked to the dugout for medical assistance.

The Brewers do not believe Lindblom’s back issue is serious, said manager Craig Counsell, who would not even use the word “injury” to describe it. Lindblom dealt with a similar sensation last week in his tune-up at the Brewers’ alternate training site.

“The best way I can describe it is almost like a boa constrictor is wrapping around my ribcage,” Lindblom said. “It locks up and I can’t breathe, I can’t rotate. But now I’m chilled out and it feels fine. It’s not really painful; it’s just kind of uncomfortable. I think we need to look at some hydration stuff, maybe some nutrition stuff, and nip this thing in the bud.”

The Brewers do have depth of starting pitching, with young left-hander Eric Lauer working out of the bullpen after a season-opening stint on the COVID-19-related injured list, and veteran left-hander Brett Anderson expected to come off the 10-day IL to start Friday’s home opener following treatment for a blister on his index finger.

2) Seventh goes sideways

hit his first 2020 home run and the teams entered the seventh in a 2-2 tie. They exited in a 6-6 tie after a long, ugly inning that totaled 17 batters, eight runs, six walks, four hits, one hit batsman and one ugly error charged to Brewers first baseman Justin Smoak, who aired a toss over second base on a routine fielder’s choice that spotted the Pirates two unearned runs.

All of the damage in the inning was charged to Suter, who had just sat through a long top of the seventh in which Brewers hitters took four consecutive walks and missed a grand slam by mere inches. Those inches wound up being big, since Suter allowed successive singles to start the bottom of the inning before losing his command and hitting Adam Frazier with a pitch. He then walked Kevin Newman on four pitches to force in the first of the Pirates’ four runs against Suter and Corey Knebel in the frame.

“I don’t know what happened for those five pitches,” Suter said. “That hasn’t really happened to me, where I thought I ‘stuck’ the pitch five times in a row and they went nowhere close.”

Suter planned to seek answers via video.

“It was not a good baseball inning for both sides, plain and simple,” Counsell said.

3) Out at home

As if the seventh inning was not strange enough, the eighth began with Ryan Braun bunting for a hit for the 14th time in his 14-year career, and winding up at second on a throwing error. Braun held at third on Eric Sogard’s single, then tagged up and tried to score on Avisaíl García’s flyout to left fielder Bryan Reynolds, who fired a perfect throw home to prevent Braun from giving the Brewers the lead.

In the bottom of the inning, Frazier smashed a tiebreaking, two-run home run off Bobby Wahl for the Pirates’ winning runs.

Was it the right call to send Braun from third?

“Yeah, absolutely,” Counsell said. “Perfect throw. You try to get somebody to beat you on that throw every time. [Reynolds] made a perfect throw, and I think that’s the only throw that gets him.”

A perfect throw on an imperfect night.

“You can say that the games count for three [in a 60-game regular season], but every game is one,” Lindblom said. “When you put too much emphasis on any one game, mentally, that’s not what you want to do.”