MILWAUKEE — Holding a 2-0 lead over the Toronto Blue Jays in the top of the eighth inning, the Milwaukee Brewers were on cruise control. Mike Caldwell had allowed two hits and was untouchable. A two run lead seemed insurmountable. And then…
With two down, Barry Bonnell hit a double to left center field to score Damaso Garcia to make it a 2-1 game. Caldwell would get out of the inning when Leon Roberts grounded out, but the fact that he allowed as many hits that inning as he had in the first seven should have been a warning sign.
Caldwell was out of gas.
Jesse Barfield led off the top of the ninth with a sharp single to left. Willie Upshaw bunted, hoping to sacrifice Barfield to second. Instead, Caldwell fumbled the ball and the Blue Jays had two runners on with no outs. Tony Johnson hit a triple off of the wall in right center to score Barfield and Upshaw. And then former Brewer Buck Martinez brought home Johnson on a sacrifice fly to make it 4-2 Blue Jays.
Dave Stieb nearly matched Caldwell pitch-for-pitch. But while Caldwell ran out of gas late, Stieb shut the door when it mattered. He retired nine of the last 10 batters he faced, and the Brewers’ offense never had a chance.
So, how could this happen? How could manager Harvey Kuenn leave Caldwell in a close game when he was clearly losing it? It’s simple. All-world closer Rollie Fingers wasn’t on the premises. He is back in San Diego getting treatment for a sore elbow. With Fingers, this would have been a win.
The Boston Red Sox fell to the Baltimore Orioles 5-2 in 10 innings, so the Brewers maintained their 5 1/2 game lead. But today is a preview of what can happen if Rollie Fingers is not available to anchor the bullpen. Get well, Rollie. We can’t afford to blow many more of these.
Game Notes: Randy Lerch has been sold to the Montreal Expos. Lerch had been recently demoted to the bullpen, and veteran hurler Doc Medich was acquired to take his place in the rotation. No corresponding transaction has been made. … Gorman Thomas went 3-for-4 and hit his MLB-leading 31st home run of the season.