MILWAUKEE (AP)—If struggling Milwaukee Brewers starter Jeff Suppan was wondering how much worse things could possibly get after Alfonso Soriano smacked the first pitch of the game off the facade in center field, he got his answer all too soon: Much worse.
Suppan issued three bases-loaded walks in a fourth-inning meltdown, then left the bases loaded for reliever Jorge Julio—who promptly walked Derrek Lee on four straight pitches to walk in the fourth run of the inning.
The Cubs had taken the lead without breaking a sweat, then went on to win 8-5 Sunday night and take two out of three from their NL Central rivals and finish their season-opening road trip with a 4-2 record.
“We worked them for a lot of walks,” said Cubs manager Lou Piniella, who seethed as his own pitchers gave up too many walks in the first two games of the series. “You know, when you’re on the receiving end of walks, you feel pretty good about it.”
It was more of the same for Suppan, who struggled in the final month of last season and began ’09 by giving up six runs in four innings in the Brewers’ opener at San Francisco.
“Last year is over with,” Suppan said. “I’m looking at these last two outings and trying to be a pitcher that helps a team win. That’s my goal, that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Sunday’s game wasn’t all good news for Chicago: Milton Bradley left in the fourth inning with a right groin strain, and is not likely to play in Monday’s home opener. Piniella said the team would know more about the severity of his injury Monday.
“What a great play,” Piniella said. “This kid, he’s a ballplayer— old-fashioned, hard-nosed ballplayer.”
“Gregg got two quick outs, then got in a little trouble,” Piniella said. “But look, he needed to work.”
Chicago catcher Geovany Soto stuck out as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning, his first appearance since leaving Tuesday’s game with a sore right shoulder.
Soriano began the game with the 51st leadoff homer of his career and second this season.
Suppan (0-2) then began the walk parade in the fourth, finally leaving the game to a chorus of boos with three runs in, the bases loaded and Lee at the plate. Julio walked Lee, giving the Cubs a 5-1 lead despite having only two hits in the first four innings.
It was only the ninth time since divisional play began in 1969 that a team issued four bases-loaded walks in a single inning. But it was the second time in less than a week—the Braves issued four bases-loaded walks to the Phillies on Wednesday.
Cubs starter Ryan Dempster (1-0), who has made life miserable for the Brewers in the past, wasn’t at his best Sunday. But given the problems experienced by Suppan, it didn’t really matter.
“That’s very unlike him,” Dempster said. “He’s a strike-throwing guy.”
Milwaukee scored a pair in the fifth to cut the lead to 6-4—but the Brewers could have tied the game if not for the remarkable catch by Johnson, who timed a perfect jump to climb the eight-foot outfield wall and put his glove on a deep fly ball by Fielder that otherwise would have gone for a grand slam.
“It wasn’t a very well-pitched game, yet we still had a chance,” Brewers manager Ken Macha said. “Guy goes over the fence and catches Prince’s ball. That hit would have tied up the game.”
Fielder tipped his helmet toward Johnson as he walked back to the dugout, and the two talked at first base after Johnson was hit by a pitch in the next inning.
“I’m like, ‘Man, I know you don’t want to hear it, but that was the first time I’ve ever done that,” Johnson said.
Fielder managed to have fun with it, too.
“I said ‘Great play, you jerk,”’ Fielder said. “You can’t be mad about it. We still got a run in, so you can’t be too upset.”
Piniella said Soto should be able to start Wednesday. … Soriano stole the 250th base of his career in the third, making him the 19th player in major league history with at least 250 home runs and 250 stolen bases. … Fielder beat out an infield single in the third. … The Cubs’ home opener is scheduled for Monday afternoon, but rain is forecast in the Chicago area.