CINCINNATI — At a time in the season where literally every game counts, the Milwaukee Brewers simply couldn’t afford what happened on Sunday afternoon at Great American Ball Park.
The offense once again wasn't able to get to left-hander Nick Lodolo, an early baserunning miscue killed some precious momentum and an eighth-inning home run surrendered by Matt Bush proved to be the kill shot in a 2-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds that denied the Brewers their first four-game sweep here since 2003.
More important, they gave right back the half-game they’d gained in the National League wild-card race the night before, and will return to American Family Field for the final nine games of the season needing a huge homestand in order to not be left out of the postseason for the first time since 2017.
While the San Diego Padres won later Sunday the Philadelphia Phillies did not, meaning the Brewers remain 1 ½ games out of the third wild card.
"We gave ourselves a chance on this homestand," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell. "We’re going to have to win a lot of games, there’s no question about it, but we bought ourselves a good homestand. We bought ourselves days into the homestand.
"We’re going to have to be good on the homestand. We’re going to have to be really good. But we’re capable of it, and the fact that we’re at home is a good thing."
BOX SCORE: Reds 2, Brewers 1
Bush, appearing for the third time in the series, was the sixth Milwaukee pitcher in behind Freddy Peralta, who had been reinstated from the injured list prior to the game and was starting for the first time since Sept. 8.
Five pitches in, the right-hander made the mistake of hanging a 1-2 fastball to Spencer Steer and he drove it out to center for just his second major-league homer.
The homer was the fifth allowed by Bush since being traded to Milwaukee on Aug. 1.
Willy Adames, Christian Yelich and Hunter Renfroe all struck out out in the ninth.
It was a fitting finish to a frustrating day that featured plenty of bad luck for the bats, including what looked to be a surefire two-run homer off the bat of Tyrone Taylor dying at the warning track in right in the fifth and a 1-5-3, inning-ending double play in the seventh on a Rowdy Tellez shot back through the box.
"We didn't create many scoring opportunities today," Counsell conceded.
The Brewers – who'd totaled 20 runs in the first three games of the series including 10 in their win Saturday – appeared to be carrying that mojo over to the series finale when Renfroe hit a first-pitch homer out to right-center in the second.
It was his fourth in two games and eighth at Great American Ball Park this season, a new record for a visiting player. The shot also gave the Brewers 44 homers in 19 games against the Reds this season, tied for the most ever by one team against another in the National League.
And Milwaukee kept the pressure on Lodolo, who'd dominated them in Milwaukee on Sept. 9 when he pitched a career-high eight innings and struck out 11 in a Cincinnati victory.
The good news to come out of today was Freddy Peralta said he felt great: pic.twitter.com/ojotMCZ0mt
— Todd Rosiak (@Todd_Rosiak) September 25, 2022
Mike Brosseau followed the homer by singling, then after a flyout, Keston Hiura doubled off the wall in right-center.
But Victor Caratini followed by striking out and Taylor lined a single up the middle only to hit Hiura in the leg, a play that resulted in the third out rather than two runs scoring.
"Two outs, I’m on second base. I’m off at the crack of the bat," Hiura said. "As soon as he made contact, I took off. You want to score on a base hit. He hammered it. It had a little top spin to it so I thought it was going to just get by me.
"I thought I could step to get by him but it hit that back leg. If it goes through, it’s probably a hit and an RBI or two. I was just going off the crack of the bat and he drilled it."
Lodolo got dialed back in quickly after the second and limited the Brewers to one walk from the third through the sixth, concluding his day by striking out Adames, Yelich and Renfroe.
He induced eight ground-ball outs in addition to striking out six.
"Honestly, he’s just a big arm," Hiura said. "He’s got kind of a jerky motion so it looks like it’s coming at you quick. He throws in the mid-, upper 90s, top of the zone. Then today, it looked like he was mixing in more sliders and changeups, so he definitely was keeping hitters off-balance.
"I thought we had some pretty good swings off him today. Obviously, he’s had success in the second half for a reason."
Peralta, meanwhile, threw 44 pitches over two innings, topping out at 95.6 mph with his fastball — a very good sign following his bout of shoulder fatigue. He allowed two hits and a walk and struck out three before making way for Aaron Ashby in the third.
"He was a different pitcher," Counsell said. "I think we saw that he was a different pitcher."
Ashby, meanwhile, was shaky to say the least in what turned out to be a 1 ⅓-inning, 40-pitch appearance.
He hit the first batter he faced in TJ Friedl but caught a major break when, with two outs, Friedl was caught too far off third by Caratini on a squibber down the third-base line and tagged out.
Ashby's luck ran out in the fourth when he allowed a leadoff single, walked a pair with one out and then hit No. 9 hitter Austin Romine with a pitch after getting ahead in the count, 1-2.
That tied the game and ended his day, with Peter Strzelecki coming on to strand the bases loaded. Trevor Gott and Brad Boxberger followed with scoreless innings but Bush wasn't able to follow suit in the decisive eighth.
The bit of good news to come out of the loss was Peralta and Ashby should be in position to pitch deeper into games moving forward -- a key when it will be all hands on deck for the Brewers against the incoming St. Louis Cardinals, followed by the Miami Marlins and Arizona Diamondbacks.
"I can do more, and I feel really good doing more," Peralta said. "It's just time to be on another level, is how I feel these games are kind of different. I'm ready to see what's coming for us."
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Brewers offense hits speed bump in 2-1 loss to Reds