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Brewers bullpen clutch with season on line

October 7, 2011

Saito, K-Rod pave way to Axford, who earns Game 5 win

By Jordan Schelling / MLB.com

MILWAUKEE — Takashi Saito cruised through the seventh. Setup man Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez escaped with the bases loaded in the eighth. All the Brewers needed was a John Axford save for their first postseason win since 1982.With Axford having converted 44 consecutive save opportunities, Game 5 and the National League Division Series seemed all but over against the D-backs on Friday night at Miller Park. Instead, Axford blew his first save since April.

A leadoff double by Gerardo Parra — his first hit of the series — followed by a bloop single and a bunt single tied the game at 2.

“I knew these guys were going to go out there and give us their best,” Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. “He made that one bad pitch to Parra at the start of the inning, and the guy made him pay for it.

“It’s a little shock, kind of unexpected because you expect him to go out and get it done every night. But sometimes he’s going to make mistakes. And he’s human, he can’t be perfect. So he did a hell of a job for us.”

In the most important game of the Brewers’ season, Axford finally blew a save.

But he recovered.

Axford came out in the 10th — just the second time this season he’s pitched more than one inning — and retired the D-backs in order, getting a flyout to left, a groundout to shortstop and a called strike three to end the inning.

Said Axford: “I felt really good, I felt calm going back out there for the 10th, I felt the same way as well.”

Did manager Ron Roenicke give any thought to not sending Axford back out in the 10th?

“We talked about it,” Roenicke said. “He had 17 pitches. We felt pretty good about him going back out.”

Brewers owner Mark Attanasio said he actually felt relaxed when Axford came back on for another inning.

“Once I saw him going out for the 10th, I actually got calm,” Attanasio said. “I knew, having been out there already, he was going to put them down.”

With his dominant 10th, Axford not only made up for his blown save in the ninth, but also capped a night that featured the Brewers’ bullpen coming through when it was needed most.

All season, and especially since Rodriguez was acquired at the All-Star break, the bullpen has shortened games with Saito, K-Rod, and Axford closing out the final three innings. In Game 5 on Friday, starter Yovani Gallardo did his part, going six innings to lay the ground work for the ‘pen.

With the Brewers leading 2-1 after Yuniesky Betancourt’s go-ahead single, the Crew’s bullpen trio did what it has done so many times this year.

“Everybody pitched in. Unbelievable,” said a champagne-soaked Doug Melvin, Milwaukee’s general manager. “Axford pitching two innings, big outs by K-Rod. It was a team effort.”

Saito got a flyout, a strikeout and groundout to do his part. Rodriguez then came on and walked the leadoff batter before getting Justin Upton to strike out. Rodriguez allowed a hit, but got another strikeout. A walk made things interesting, but another groundout to Betancourt allowed K-Rod to get out of the jam.

His innings haven’t always been pretty or easy, but Rodriguez was acquired to shut the door on opposing offenses in the eighth, and eventually, he did just that Friday.

“I think they’re important every game they go out there,” Lucroy said. “But tonight it was kind of an exclamation point of how important they are, because they come in and they shut the door.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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