COMMENTARY | The seventh inning came to a close. The Milwaukee Brewers were trailing the St. Louis Cardinals 3-0, staring into the daunting eyes of a sweep. They had just set a 41-year-old franchise record, going 32 consecutive innings without scoring a run, and only two innings separated Milwaukee from a 2-9 start to the 2013 season, which would be another franchise worst.
But then something miraculous happened -- the Brewers scored. Multiple times. They tied the game, then took the lead, then held on for dear life, defeating the division-leading Cardinals. Instead of ending the road trip on a four-game losing streak and trailing St. Louis by 5 1/2 games with a 34-inning scoreless streak, Milwaukee was victorious for what felt like the first time all season.
Don't tell the Brewers there's no such thing as an important win in April, because that's exactly what they got on Sunday, April 14. Perhaps it was meant to be, as the shortened numerical version of April 14 is "414," the area code of Milwaukee. Either way, 3-8 is still a pretty poor start to the season, but there five things we saw on Sunday that may have helped turn the tide.
Marco Estrada's start
Before Sunday's series finale, the Brewers were 1-3 when their starting pitcher put together a quality start. Estrada held the lone victory, and although he had his moments managed to get through six innings while giving up three runs, qualifying him for a quality start and keeping Milwaukee in the game.
And for the second Estrada start in a row, the Brewers won. It wasn't the 29-year-old righty who got the W, but he continues to sport an absurd strikeout to walk ratio (14.00). During the road trip, the starting pitching was actually pretty solid save for Yovani Gallardo of all people, who continues to be haunted by St. Louis, but if the quality starting pitching continues, Milwaukee will give itself a chance to win and win often.
Ryan Braun's 2-run home run
To lead off the top of the eighth, the sizzling Jean Segura (.417 average) singled up the middle to give the Brewers are rare leadoff baserunner. Then, for the first time in five days, a runner not only reached third base, but crossed the plate when Braun squeezed a fastball inside the foul pole and over the right field wall.
It snapped a 0-for-10 stretch for Braun, who hadn't looked himself throughout the entire Cardinal series. The Brewers were still trailing following Braun's home run, but just to see runs on the board was a relief for a team that had trouble doing anything right.
Heroics from the bottom of the order
Entering Sunday's game, position players not named Norichika Aoki, Segura or Braun combined to hit under .200 on the season. It helped explain the enormous scoring drought the Brewers were suffering through, but in the ninth and tenth innings, the bottom of the order finally showed up.
Carlos Gomez began the ninth with a single, his third hit of the game. Then Yuniesky Betancourt drove the ball all the way to the wall in right-center for his second hit, plating Go-Go and tying the game. Milwaukee missed a golden opportunity to take the lead, but Jonathan Lucroy made up for it in the tenth with a solo shot to left-center, his third hit of the game. It's the production the Brewers so desperately needed from the bottom half of the order -- better late than never.
The overall performance of the bullpen
Turning the game over to the bullpen while trailing 3-0 isn't exactly an ideal situation for any team, especially the Brewers. But starting with Tom Gorzelanny in the seventh, the unit got the job done and kept the Cardinals at three runs over the final four innings. Jim Henderson, who hadn't pitched since April 9, threw a perfect eighth and his ERA remains at zero.
From there, Brandon Kintzler, Michael Gonzalez and Burke Badenhop, who were all coming off rough showings, brought the Brewers to the finish line safely. The performance of the 'pen brought its collective ERA down from 5.40 to 4.79 and in general the unit looked competent during the three-game series in St. Louis. The Brewers can only hope this is a sign of things to come.
Battling through adversity
Whether it was a backbreaking home run, a diving catch in the gap or a double-play ball to kill a rally, it felt like the Brewers couldn't catch a break against the Cardinals. Even through the first seven innings on Sunday, multiple double plays and a fourth inning home run by Matt Adams made a victory feel impossible.
But this time, the Brewers decided that enough was enough and found a way to win, something they had only done twice in the previous 13 days. Now that they know they can do it, there should be a feeling of relief and new-found confidence in the clubhouse. It's said that sports are 90 percent mental, and battling through adversity on Sunday should provide a healthy boost to Milwaukee's mental toughness.
Dave Radcliffe is a resident of a little known Milwaukee suburb who contains an unhealthy amount of knowledge about Wisconsin sports. He has contributed to JSOnline and as a featured columnist among other sites and publications.
You can follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_ .
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