MILWAUKEE — I should have felt good about the fact that the Brewers were leaving St. Louis tied at a game apiece. After all, they say that all you need is one in that situation. But there was something about losing a game that should have been won that bothered me. I had a bad feeling that, even though the Brewers had stolen home field advantage, losing that second game would haunt them.
Exhibit A is tonight’s game. Back in Milwaukee, in front of the home crowd, you’d expect the Brewers to go up two games to one. Particularly with the leading American League Cy Young candidate, Pete Vuckovich, on the mound.
But things didn’t go as planned in this 6-2 loss to the Cardinals. Vuke only allowed six hits in 8 2/3 innings. He didn’t allow a single hit to the first three batters in the Cardinals’ lineup, and the top five went a combined 1-for-19. You’d expect that this would be the reflection of a win, in a typical game. But this game was not typical.
First and foremost, Joaquin Andujar owned Brewers batters. While Harvey’s Wallbangers haven’t been owned consistently of late, they certainly haven’t been banging walls with regularity either. But Andujar kept the bats silent all night long.
It wasn’t until a Ted Simmons liner knocked Andujar out of the game in the seventh that the Brewers’ offense started to see life. His rocket struck Andujar in the right knee, and the pitcher writhed in pain on the ground until he was finally replaced.
“I was just glad it didn’t get Andujar in the head or some place where it would hurt him real bad,” said Simmons. “You don’t say, ‘Wow, I knocked him out of the game. Oh goody for us.’ It’s not like that at all. You hope the guy isn’t hurt.”
It certainly wasn’t “goody for us.” The Brewers squandered a major opportunity that inning, loading the bases on four Cardinals pitchers before closer Bruce Sutter ended the inning on a Charlie Moore pop-out caught on the top dugout step.
The Brewers would finally break through on a two-out, two-run homer by Cecil Cooper in the eighth. But other than that, nothing.
That doesn’t mean we let Vuke off the hook. He’s supposed to be our Cy Young candidate, after all. And when you are supposedly one of the best pitchers in the American League, you should be up to any challenge. Well, he lost his last big game of the regular season to the Orioles. He lost one game to the Angels in the ALCS and got no decision in the other. And today, he lost again.
But it wasn’t the top of the order that got to Vuke. It was the bottom. And most specifically, it was rookie Willie McGee. In a scoreless game in the fifth, McGee hit a three run homer. McGee, if you did not know, had four regular season home runs. But because of his bomb, the Brewers were down 3-0.
McGee then came to bat again in the seventh. The result? Another homer to give the Cardinals a 5-0 lead. It’s tough to explain.
“A guy hits four home runs all year,” Vuke would say, “you won’t expect him to hit two in a game. But he did.”
McGee wasn’t done torturing the Brewers. With Oglivie on first after an error by Keith Hernandez, Gorman Thomas launched what appeared to be a home run to center field. But McGee raced back, leaped at the wall, and pulled it back in.
The Cardinals scored their last run when Vuke pitched around light-hitting Ozzie Smith with the bases loaded and walked in a run in the ninth.
“I tried to get him to fish inside. He didn’t fish,” explained Vuke.
Unacceptable. Why in the world do you need to get a guy with no bat like Smith to fish? Just throw him a strike, Vuke. He can’t hurt you. It’s painful.
Honestly, I don’t know who needs to pay for this loss. Pete Vuckovich is certainly at the top of the list. I’m tired of defending him as a Cy Young caliber pitcher when he can’t pitch close to that caliber in the postseason. That said, we’ve been drooling over this offense all season long, and they are giving us little to be excited about of late.
Paul Molitor, who had five hits in Game 1, went 0-for-4 in Game 3. Robin Yount, the likely regular season MVP, went 0-for-3. Ben Oglivie went 0-for-4 to lower his postseason average to .111. Gorman Thomas went 1-for-4 and actually raised his postseason average to .115.
Oh, and the defense committed three more errors leading to two unearned runs.
It’s frustrating. It’s frustrating to know how fortunate this team is to be in the World Series right now considering how poorly they’ve played overall. And it’s frustrating to sense that if they’d play even average baseball, they’d be up three games to none. But instead, they’re down two to one.
But I’m just a passionate, overreacting fan. Sure, it’s just one game. And they may win the next three. But it’s painful to watch the Brewers under perform, and they did so in every facet of the game on this night.
What do you think? Is it too early to panic?