BOSTON — Needing a win and an Orioles loss to clinch the AL East on Thursday, the Brewers didn’t have it as the Red Sox took the series finale. Not the timely hitting, not the pitching. No champagne.
Jim Slaton, who has been a reliable all-purpose pitcher for the Brewers all season long, found himself in a constant jam. He yielded three singles in the first, but managed to escape without allowing a run thanks to a well-timed double play. Two more runners were stranded in the second before the Red Sox broke through in the third.
With two down and a runner on first, the sure-handed Robin Yount muffed an easy Carney Lansford grounder that should have ended the inning. Rookie Wade Boggs, looking nothing like a rookie, stroked a double off of the Green Monster to plate Jim Rice and give the Red Sox a 1-0 lead.
Things only got uglier for Slaton, who surrendered two more runs before being replaced by Jamie Easterly.
[Note: Do you know how we Brewers fans can all save some time and energy? As soon as we see Jamie Easterly on the mound, we know the game's over. Grab a beer. If you aren't of age, refill your sippy cup. He's made 12 appearances since the start of June, 10 of which ended in a loss. Easterly tends to be the mop-up guy when the Brewers throw in the towel. And if the Crew is still in the game and Easterly is on the mound? We can expect he'll lose it.]
Once Easterly allowed another of Slaton’s runners to score, it was a 4-0 Boston lead. Pitching was rough, but we can always rely on Harvey’s Wallbangers to keep the Crew in the game, right? Boston pitcher Dennis Eckersley had other ideas. I’m not sure what those ideas were, but they didn’t include our favorite players stepping on home plate.
They “hit” fine, I guess. The Brewers did manage 12 hits on Eckersley. The problem was they didn’t walk once and they were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
On this night, it would not matter. The Brewers bullpen, which has been the team’s Achilles’ heel since all-world closer Rollie Fingers went down, rolled over once again. A combination of Moose Haas, Pete Ladd, Dwight Bernard and Bob McClure surrendered five runs in three innings. Each pitcher allowed at least a run, a sight that has become far too common.
[Note #2: Brewers fans have to ask an important question. Let's say the Brewers actually do make it to the playoffs. Let's say Rollie Fingers never makes a miraculous comeback. What makes any of us think that this team can routinely hold leads late in games without Fingers? No late reliever has proven to be reliable in his place. Unless Sutton, Vuckovich and Caldwell can pitch complete games every time out, we're screwed!]
“It would have been nice to take it tonight,” third baseman Paul Molitor said. “But it also will be nice to go against [the Orioles] head to head. After the way they took two of three from us last weekend in Milwaukee, it will be a lot more satisfying to go in there and see the whites of their eyes and take it away from them.”
That’s one way to look at it, I guess.
The Brewers had the champagne chilled and ready in the event the Crew won and Orioles lost. It didn’t happen. The champagne will have to make the trip to Baltimore.
“Don’t worry,” said traveling secretary Tommy Ferguson. “We bought good champagne, it won’t go stale.”
No champagne tonight. No resting the starters in Baltimore. Another day of stress for the fans back in Milwaukee.
AL East Update: The Orioles kept the pressure on by overcoming a three-run, eighth inning deficit to the Tigers on Thursday night. They scored three of their comeback runs with two outs. Had the Orioles failed to win, their only chance would have been a four-game sweep of the Brewers for a tie. Now the Brewers must win one game in Baltimore to clinch.
Rollie Fingers Update: Fingers was unable to throw prior to today’s game due to a stiff forearm. Asked if his star reliever would be available for any of the games in Baltimore, manager Harvey Kuenn said simply, “I doubt it.”