When he wrote a quick note Friday night to the Milwaukee media, John Axford was just trying to be courteous to explain his situation. And when I tweeted a quick photo of it early Saturday morning, I thought it was something fun my followers would enjoy.
Neither of us had any idea the note would become as big a deal as it did.
(Link to original tweet here)
My tweet and photo soon were retweeted by Adam McCalvy, Derrick Goold, Richard Justice and Will Leitch, among others, including Doug Gottlieb, Tom Oates, Bleacher Report and USA Today. Thanks to their significantly larger followings, my photo reached thousands more users on Twitter.
It also was picked up by a number of other news websites:
John Axford blows save, evades media with clever note | CBS Chicago
John Axford is cooler than you | The Score
Twitter Responses | Muckrack
John Axford pretty much rules | NBC Hardball Talk
John Axford is awesome | SB Nation
John Axford letter to media | SB Nation Chicago
Brewers closer leaves funny note | Yard Barker
John Axford leaves a note after wife goes into labor | MLB.com Cut 4
John Axford leaves hilarious note after blown save ends streak | Midwest Sports Fans
After tweeting the picture, I noticed a couple retweets, but simply went about my business writing my game MLB.com game story. It was, after all, 1 a.m., and I did have to be back at Miller Park in about nine hours. I drove home still thinking the Axford note was funny, but no big deal. Just before going to sleep, I checked Twitter on my phone and was surprised by the number of retweets.
That surprise turned to shock in the morning. All told, between my tweet and others that RT’d with a comment, I had well over 500 retweets. At its height, there was an almost constant flow of mentions coming in to my account. It was overwhelming and by far the most attention I’ve ever received on Twitter.
I owe much thanks to Axford for the note itself, as well as the high-profile writers that helped get my tweet out to the masses. I’m still just a freelance baseball writer, but it was fun to feel like more of a big shot for a day or two.
MILWAUKEE — Even as the workload of pitchers decreases, the injuries seem to be mounting with increasing frequency. Especially elbow injuries, and especially with closers.
That was the premise of a story written today by Tom Verducci for SI.com. As he sees it, the injury trends point to a need for rethinking the modern bullpen in which relievers — outside of a select group of long relief pitchers — are limited to single innings or at-bats in very specific situations.
Left-handed relievers often face strictly left-handed batters late in ballgames. Managers like Tony La Russa have no problem running out three different relievers for three batters in a single inning: right-hander to face righty at the plate, lefty versus lefty, and then back to the right side. Or vice versa.
The alarming thing is that while pitchers’ workloads are generally decreasing, the likelihood of injury seems to be on the rise. Just this week, Giants closer Brian Wilson went down with a season-ending elbow injury that will require his second Tommy John surgery.
Here are some of the statistics from Verducci’s story:
- Sixty-six percent of 2011 Opening Day closers (20 of 30) are no longer closing for the same team 12 months later, with seven of them hurt.
- Fifty percent of all starting pitchers will go on the DL every year, as well as 34 percent of all relievers, according to research by Stan Conte, director of medical services for the Los Angeles Dodgers. That bears repeating: half of all starting pitchers will break down this year. (“When I did the research,” Conte said, “I was so surprised I figured I must have done the math wrong.”)
- Injuries last year cost clubs $487 million — or about $16 million per team. The bill since 2008 for players who can’t play is $1.9 billion.
As for guys like Wilson, going through the surgery a second time, 70 percent of relievers make it back while only one in 10 starters returns following a second operation and lengthy rehab.
A couple more stats from Verducci:
- The past two seasons mark the first time since the save statistic became official in 1969 that nobody saved 25 games with 81 innings in back-to-back full seasons. Bailey, with the 2009 Athletics, is the only closer to do so in the past four years.
- Over the previous five seasons, 53 closers saved 25 games at least once. Thirty-three of them, or 62 percent, no longer are closing.
- Only five pitchers saved 25 games three times in the past five years and are still closing: Jose Valverde, Mariano Rivera, Jonathan Papelbon, Heath Bell and Joe Nathan
With all that in mind, I talked this afternoon with Brewers closer John Axford about the story and the injury trends, to assess his feelings and level of concern about the likelihood of injury and seemingly short lifespan of pitchers in his role.
Here’s what he had to say:
Do the injury trends worry you at all?
“No, not particularly. As far as injuries go, that happens to anybody, whether you’re a starter or reliever. I don’t think it matters whether you’re specified as a closer or not. As a pitcher in general I think you’re more susceptible to injury than a position player.”
“It’s nothing I think about every single day, that’s for sure.”
Do you ever think at all about the fact that as a closer you’re likely to have a short lifespan in the role?
“Some people do, some people don’t. It just depends on the trend and the people that they want to look at. Once again, it’s not something I really look at and think about too much.”
Did you ever talk to Trevor Hoffman about how he was able to last in the role so successfully for such a long time?
“Really, just his work ethic. Just watching him work day in and day out, you could just tell his determination and dedication every single day. I think that’s really what it takes.”
“Obviously for Trevor, too, it was a matter of San Diego. Him wanting to be there, taking an opportunity when he had it, and obviously the team wanting him to be there also. So if I’m given the opportunity to stay in Milwaukee, I obviously would love to do that. I think you have a better chance of staying with that same club than testing free agency and popping out everywhere as a closer. That doesn’t seem to go over quite as well. Unless you’re Papelbon, I guess.”
Would the likelihood of injuries make you more likely to want to sign early if offered an extension?
“I know how hard I work, I know the effort I put in every single day. I know my body and I know what it’s capable of. Same with the team. They’re pretty trustworthy and they’re pretty open to both sides. If I tell them I can’t pitch on a particular day, they know they won’t put me in. Even if I say I’m OK, sometimes Ron [Roenicke]’s going to say, ‘No, we’re going to give you a day off.’ If it’s early in the season, obviously, why not give a guy a break when he needs a break? And Ron and Kranny [pitching coach Rick Kranitz], they’re great about that. They’re great about making sure that the relievers and everybody has the time that they need.”
“So I don’t think I’m going to get overworked, and I know how hard I work. So I don’t feel like an ‘injury waiting to happen’ by any means.”
Another thing mentioned in the story is the setup of the bullpen and closers being limited to late-inning save situations, if it were up to you would you stick with that or pitch whenever high-leverage situations came up? Fifth-inning, sixth inning?
“I don’t really know. Maybe not that early. I think my mentality’s kind of made up now towards the end of the ballgame. I really enjoy that role. Obviously in 2010, I was in there in the eighth inning at times for some saves. So I got some two-inning saves, some four- and five-out saves. Those opportunities I think really kept me focused out there as well. Having the bullpen we have now, though, everything is really role-oriented… so there isn’t much that you need to do to deviate from that.”
Can you compare your arm now to what it was like before Tommy John surgery?
“The way the doctor described it was, it was a few pieces of string that’s now become a noose rope. I had what many people do not, which is a lack of a tendon in my wrist. So they used my hamstring. So it was thicker and stronger, and they looped it through four times. Generally it used to be two, then they started switching to three. They could do four really easily with me because I had such a prominent elbow bone, my bone sticks out prominently enough, so they looped it through four times. That’s why it sticks out even more now, unlike [the other] side, which just goes straight.”
“He said, as long as I continue to pitch in baseball and work the way you normally would and work hard, I should never have another elbow problem again. And I haven’t. It’s been unbelievably strong since. Obviously it took a little longer to come back than I wanted because I was trying to figure out my arm path again. … But as far as the elbow is concerned, I’ve never had a problem with it since.”
Do you think there should be any concern in baseball in general about the increase in injuries despite the decrease in workload?
“Not to attack anyone’s work ethic, but it could be just a matter of how people are going about their work. If you’re doing a little too much throughout the year, that could affect it. If you’re not doing enough throughout the year, that could affect it. So many little things could affect an injury. Something small, something big.”
“The elbow is such a tough thing. Throwing a baseball is the most unnatural thing you can do in sports, other than serving a tennis ball. So it’s going to put a lot of strain on your elbow. You just have to take care of it. Certainly you have to understand and know of your body. If you’re putting too much strain on it outside of your throwing program and outside of the games, then obviously that’s not going to be good. But if you’re not doing enough to maintain your shoulder work and elbow work, then you’re going to hurt it then too.”
How well do you know BrianWilson and what did you think when you heard he would be having a second Tommy John surgery?
“We played together when I was in the Cape in 2002. But that was the only time I ever met him. And that was just before he had his first Tommy John, and just before I had my first Tommy John.”
“It’s concerning because he had his in 2003 and that’s when I had mine too. So it’s interesting to think about. Obviously I don’t want to think about it too much because it’s the same timeframe for both of us. But it’s a tough break for him, tough break for the Giants.”
Following last night’s thriller, which featured career save No. 600 for Trevor Hoffman, we had a sidebar on his Brewers teammates’ reactions to the moment.
While that story captured the emotions and feelings in the clubhouse, there was far too much to fit in after the game. With a guy like Hoffman who’s frequently described as the “best teammate,” there was hardly of lack of things to say in the home clubhouse.
Braun: “Like we were going to the playoffs”
According to left fielder Ryan Braun, the emotion following the final out of the game was far greater than the meaningless early September game that it starter out as.
“It felt like we were going to the playoffs,” he said. “It was exciting. I think it was exciting for all of us to have something to celebrate, for all of us to have been a part of something so special. That’s something that we might not ever see again. Who knows if anybody else ever gets to 600 saves.”
Coffey: “I was 100 percent spectator”
Perhaps most excited about the achievement — more so even than Hoffman himself — were Hoffman’s bullpen mates.
Reliever Todd Coffey described his feelings as “beyond goosebumps” as he become more of a spectator than a teammate. After that, he went on for a few minutes about the emotions he felt both when Hoffman entered the game and recorded his 600th save.
“As soon as he walked out of the bullpen, the entire bullpen was up and I think we were all clapping louder than the fans, we were hollering louder than the fans,” Coffey said. “I don’t think any of us actually realized we were in the bullpen. We were all out there with Hoffy.
“We were hanging over, we even thought about, ‘let’s just jump the wall and go. Then we thought, ‘we better not jump the wall.’
“I think me, Zach [Braddock] and Kam[eron Loe] all hit the pile at the same time. I think I felt the whole pile moving when we hit it. It’s an experience that I’ll never forget. He’s always there for every one of us. For us to be there for him, it’s amazing. He cares less about himself and more about his teammates than anything else.”
Davis: “Just incredible”
Others had less to say, but their thoughts were no less insightful.
Veteran left-handed starter Doug Davis recalled being part of a similar moment early in his career.
“Definitely the most exciting thing I’ve ever been a part of,” Davis said. “My first win was John Wetteland’s 300th save. I thought that was impressive, but this, twice as many saves, it’s just incredible.”
Bush: “An amazing number”
Another Brewers starter, right-hander Dave Bush, took particular notice of the number of people in the dugout during that final inning, as everyone wanted the best view they could get of Hoffman’s historic save.
“It’s an amazing number, one that nobody’s ever gotten to before,” Bush said. “I can’t even fathom at all what it takes to reach that.
“It was exciting. Probably the most people I’ve ever seen in the dugout in the ninth inning. Everybody was coming down here because they wanted to be as close to it as they could. As a player, moments like that are few and far between. To be his teammate and to be around for something like is just awesome.”
Lucroy: “I’m totally lucky and blessed”
After beginning the season at Double-A Huntsville, catcher Jonathan Lucroy called the game Tuesday night, including Hoffman’s thrilling ninth.
As he waited on the mound for the all-time saves leader, with “Hell’s Bells” blaring from the stadium speakers, Lucroy said he had goosebumps and began to shake from the nerves.
He stayed relaxed behind the plate, though, and didn’t change a thing. Until the final out as he ran down toward first base.
“It’s something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life and cherish,” Lucroy said. “To be able to remember something like that, it’s a blessing for me to even be able to experience it.
“To see him achieve a goal like that is just something that every baseball player lives for. It couldn’t have happened to a better guy. He totally deserves it. It’s an honor for me to even be here and just experience it.
“I was jacked up and excited. I told myself I was going to sacrifice my life to get an out for him if I needed to. I was going to go everything I could to get an out, no matter what I had to do, I was going to sacrifice everything for him.
“For somebody like that, to put in the kind of work he has, to play for as long as he has, and have the kind of character that he has, and for something like that to happen to him, and for me to even be there and be a part of it, it’s an unbelievable feeling.
“I was the first one [to the mound]. Usually I run down to first base and back up on ground balls, but I cut it off halfway. I was going to go get there first as fast as I could. I grabbed him and he grabbed me in a headlock and then everybody else hit and we went at it.
“It’s not very often you see grown men crying out there and there were grown men crying on the field. It was very emotional, I was trying to hold back as best I could. It’s just the payoff for so much hard work and just shows you that if you work hard and be a good person in this game there’s a lot of good things that happen to you.
“I’m totally lucky and blessed to even be here. To experience that, I don’t even deserve that. I don’t even deserve to be on the same field as that guy.”
Axford: “My heart was racing the entire time”
Of course, no story about Hoffman’s historic accomplishment would be complete without some mention of his replacement, rookie John Axford.
As has been the case all season, Axford had nothing but positive things to say about his mentor in the Brewers bullpen.
“He’s meant everything to my development because he carries about his business perfectly. He does everything right,” Axford said. “That’s been the best mentor for me. I just try to watch him and see what he does and see how I can build upon that. Every time I go out there I just try and do right by Trevor. I just want to do basically what Trevor would do and do things the right way.
“My heart was racing the entire time once the ‘Hell’s Bells’ started. My heart was going and it didn’t stop the entire time until we’re actually here right now and I’m still talking a mile a minute. I still feel the emotion and the rush from it. I think it was absolutely unbelievable.”
“It’s a cool kind of turn around. At the beginning of the year, I got my first save and Hoffy went in and got a hold for me. Now I got to go in and save that game for him, which is probably going to be the best hold of my entire life right there. I’m definitely glad I was in that game for sure.”
McGehee: “The ultimate professional”
Third baseman Casey McGehee admitted he was nervous when Hoffman entered the game. In fact, he was just hoping the ball wasn’t hit to him.
Once the final out had been recorded, however, McGehee was thrilled to be a part of such a big moment and to have played with someone who is the all-time leader in any category.
“I think the reaction of all the guys kind of let everybody see how important to this team and to us he is,” McGehee said. “You couldn’t have asked for it to happen to a better guy. He’s the ultimate professional with everything he does.
“There’s not too many people you played with that you can say you played with the all-time best anything. When my career is over and I’m sitting around telling stories at a bar somewhere, that’s going to be one of the ones I tell.
“You can’t block that out, we all knew what was going on. Most of us, we’re huge fans of the game. Coming up, we remember watching Trevor Hoffman when he was in his prime and he was virtually unhittable. To be any small part of it, it’s pretty special.
“Some of these guys that got called up today, first day in the big leagues, not a bad way to start your big league career.”
Fielder: “Happy to be a part of it”
The final out was recorded by Prince Fielder, as veteran shortstop Craig Counsell fielded a ground ball and fired to Fielder at first.
As Fielder closed his first-baseman’s mitt on the ball, he joined McGehee and Lucroy as the first three players to embrace Hoffman on the mound.
“It was awesome,” Fielder said. “Coming into this year, you knew he was close to getting it. Everything he had to go through to get to it and he finally got it, I’m really happy for him. It’s really awesome.
“It [ranks] up there just because it’s your teammate and it’s a really special moment and something that nobody else has ever done. That’s what makes it even more special and I’m just really happy to be a part of it.
Narveson: “Pretty amazing”
But none of it would have been possible had it not been for an impressive seven-inning performance by lefty starter Chris Narveson.
His brilliance on the mound was lost in the shuffle, but everything was set up by one of Narveson’s best starts of the 2010 season.
“That was pretty amazing,” Narveson said. “To be able to witness it and be the guy that started that game, was pretty special.”
MILWAUKEE — Judging by their reaction after the final out in Tuesday night’s 4-2 victory over the Cardinals, you might think the Brewers had just won the World Series.
While that may not have been the case, what they experienced certainly ranks up there pretty close. As shortstop Craig Counsell fired to Prince Fielder at first, all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman recorded career save No. 600.
“To have that final out hit to Milwaukee’s own, sure-handed Craig Counsell, that was rather fitting,” said Hoffman.
As Fielder caught the feed from Counsell, the Brewers mobbed Hoffman on the mound.
“To be a part of it was great because of how much admiration we all have for Trevor,” Counsell said. “That’s what makes it special. Hopefully, that came out [in the celebration]. The way he does his job is the way we all try to do ours.”
For rookie John Axford, the moment presented a fitting role reversal.
When Axford entered with one out in the eighth, he appeared to be in line for the five-out save and his 21st of the season. Instead, the historic moment finally arrived for Hoffman.
“We all understood that this was a moment for him,” Axford said. “I was just hoping inside that he was going to go out there. I know he deserves it and I knew he could get it done.”
After the emotional on-field ceremony that ensued, Axford was reminded by teammate Zach Braddock of an interesting relationship between Hoffman’s save No. 600 and the first of the 2010 season for Axford.
On May 23 at Target Field, after Hoffman had surrendered the closer’s duties, he delivered a scoreless eighth for a hold with the Brewers leading, 4-2, over the Twins. Three months later, it was Axford who delivered the hold in front of Hoffman.
“I felt like I had a big stake in it, too,” Axford said. “It really is unbelievable. It’s probably the best hold I’ll ever have in my entire life right there.”
Not only was it likely the most memorable hold of Axford’s career, it was also the most exciting win to date for Brewers starter Chris Narveson.
“You can’t beat starting a game with Hoffy coming in and getting 600,” Narveson said. “That will be one of the best games I’ll ever be a part of.”
When Hoffman began to warm in the bullpen during the bottom of the eighth, fans and players alike began to take notice.
In the dugout, teammates were asking Axford if it would be him or Hoffman in the ninth. As the Miller Park speakers began to play “Hells Bells,” their questions were answered. With that, they became spectators along with everyone else in attendance.
“I had beyond goosebumps,” reliever Todd Coffey said. “I was completely removed from the bullpen and everything. I was 100 percent spectator at that point.”
For the players on the field, however, the moment was more nerve wracking than anything before Counsell and Fielder recorded the final out.
“The one thought that kept going through my mind was, ‘Don’t hit the ball to me,'” said third baseman Casey McGehee. “I think I probably was more nervous than he was.”
Once save No. 600 was in the books, celebration ensued. From all directions — the outfield, infield, dugout and bullpen — Brewers players and coaches sprinted to the mound.
First among them was rookie catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who embraced Hoffman after playing an integral role in the historic moment.
“It’s something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life and cherish,” Lucroy said. “I got goosebumps standing on the mound waiting for him to get in there.
“I’ll never forget it the rest of my life.”
Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
ST. LOUIS — There was a time when bringing in Kameron Loe and John Axford out of the Brewers’ bullpen was as sure a sign of a Brewers victory as anything.
Things have gotten a bit more interesting lately, but when it comes down to it, Axford and Loe are the Brewers’ No. 1 and No. 2 options out of the ‘pen. If the game is on the line, it’s a pretty safe bet that one, or both, is going to pitch in the late innings.
Lately, even a heavy workload and minor struggles have not been enough to deter manager Ken Macha from making the call for the right-handed duo. More often than not, that strategy has worked out.
With a two-run lead through six innings Tuesday night, Axford and Loe combined for the final three frames as the Crew took the first of a two-game set from the Cardinals, winning, 3-2, at Busch Stadium.
Part of the strategy being successful, Macha conceded, is getting honest assessments from the players about how they feel. The other part is common sense.
“On Sunday, Axford said he was fine, but I wasn’t going to use him because he had been in two out of three days with a lot of pitches,” Macha said.
Pitching for the seventh time in the team’s past 11 games — over a 12-day span — Loe recalled memories of his stellar month of June in Tuesday’s seventh, retiring the Cardinals in order on three groundouts and just 15 pitches. But the eighth inning was a different story.
Just when Loe appeared to be back to his usual, dominant self, he gave up a pair of singles around a grounder to short, prompting Macha to call Axford’s number.
Axford, called upon to pitch more than one inning for the ninth time this season — six of which have been saves — allowed a run on a wild pitch before escaping with the lead intact. In the ninth, Axford shut down St. Louis in order, securing his 18th save of the season.
Axford picked up his sixth save of more than an inning in length in six chances and recorded his ninth appearance of four outs or more. In 36 games this season, Axford has yet to pitch less than a full frame.
“It’s been three in a row now,” Axford said, referring to his save Thursday of 1 2/3 innings and win Saturday, in which he went two full innings. “It’s fine with me, in all honesty. If that’s the way it’s going to be, that’s the way it’s going to be.”
Loe and Axford closed out a stellar performance by right-handed starter Dave Bush, who cruised through six innings, giving up just one run — Albert Pujols’ 31st homer — on four hits and one walk with three strikeouts.
Bush (6-10) left after just 91 pitches due to a blister on his pitching hand. Before that early exit, Bush kept the Cardinals’ hitters off balance all night, allowing no more than one baserunner in any inning.
“The biggest thing was keeping the ball down,” Bush said. “There wasn’t anything in particular that was working unusually well, but I was commanding my fastball down in the zone.”
Bush outdueled rookie Jaime Garcia, whose manager said he was “in some of his best form.”
Garcia (10-6) tossed his 16th quality start of the season and fifth of no earned runs at home, giving up just three unearned runs on five hits over six innings pitched. The left-hander was roughed up in two innings, though, both of which were marked by Felipe Lopez errors.
In the third inning, Lopez’s error proved costly. Brewers third baseman Casey McGehee belted a two-run homer to center field, which capped a three-run inning and proved to be the eventual game-winner.
“We lost that game because of me. That’s all,” Lopez said. “I make those plays, we win.”
After a quiet three-game series in Colorado, McGehee was swinging as hot a bat as ever.
Entering the game just 1-for-7 against Garcia with a walk and a strikeout, McGehee hit the ball hard up the middle in each of his three at-bats, including the two-run homer.
McGehee’s second-inning single was ripped hard off Garcia’s left leg, ricocheting into foul territory on the third-base side. An inning later, McGehee belted his 19th homer of the season.
McGehee has hit safely in 12 of his past 14 games, batting .411 (23-for-56) in that stretch with five home runs and 19 RBIs. In the 21 games since July 25, when he broke a homerless streak, McGehee has gone .370 (30-for-81) with six home runs and 22 RBIs.
“It’s a whole [heck] of a lot of luck,” McGehee joked. “The biggest thing was just confidence, I think. For a while there, I was making it a little too complicated.
“I just tried to get back to trying to playing my game and not be something I’m not.”
Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
MILWAUKEE — It’s like someone flipped a switch in the fourth inning.
Through the third, right-hander Ian Kennedy appeared headed for disaster. Something changed in his final three frames of work, though, as Kennedy shut down the Brewers and kept the D-backs within striking distance.
As it turns out, the difference may have been the weather.
“Ian struggled a lot,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. “It was humid and he couldn’t get a grip, especially on his changeup. In the fourth inning, it cooled down just a little bit and he kind of got back into it and gave us six innings.”
Kennedy’s turnaround proved crucial in the late innings as the D-backs turned the tables on the Brewers for a 7-4 win in 10 innings on Monday night at Miller Park.
With two wild pitches on the night, Kennedy increased his season total to 13, moving him into a tie for first place in the National League. He also hit three batters, giving him nine on the season and putting him third in the NL.
“He was having a really hard time,” Gibson said. “His changeup I think was the worst. He couldn’t throw that at all, so he was down to really the fastball and the curveball.”
Overcoming the conditions and the rough start, Kennedy helped the D-backs win for just the 16th time this season in 53 games away from Chase Field.
“That’s one of the things about when we come on the road. When we play at home, we always have the roof closed; it’s the same,” Gibson said. “Somebody asked me the other day about our road woes and this is one of the things you have to deal with. It’s humid here.”
Kennedy also surrendered four runs on five hits and three walks. Kennedy did all of this through the first three innings of the D-backs’ series opener with the Brewers.
In the fourth, fifth and sixth, Kennedy was unhittable, as he did not allow a baserunner while retiring the final 10 batters he faced. Though he admitted the humidity was an issue, Kennedy credited an adjustment he made for his mid-start turnaround.
“For me, all I noticed was I kind of gave about 80 percent instead of trying to 100 or 95 percent every time,” Kennedy said. “It was really just trying to adjust to what I had today.”
After Kennedy got them through six, Gibson admitted he was hoping his team “wouldn’t self-destruct at that point.” It didn’t. In fact, it got better as the game progressed.
Arizona’s bullpen followed suit in the seventh, eighth, and ninth, allowing just one baserunner on a walk, while striking out five of nine hitters.
All told, D-backs pitchers held the Brewers without a hit over 20 straight at-bats before Prince Fielder’s one-out single in the 10th.
In the ninth, it was Brewers closer John Axford who was wild. Axford walked the first two D-backs to bat in the inning, before a sacrifice bunt and an RBI groundout to short tied it at 4.
All-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman got in on the act in the 10th, surrendering a bases-loaded single to Stephen Drew, which was set up by a pair of walks, for the loss. Pinch-hitter Ryan Church followed with an RBI single to right for the game’s final run.
“I was watching their at-bats, and [Axford] threw some breaking balls — Trevor, also — that they laid off,” Brewers manager Ken Macha said. “To me, they were pretty good pitches and they laid off of them. So you have to give their hitters some credit, too.”
Hoffman (2-5) took the loss while Sam Demel (1-0) picked up his first Major League win. With the way the game had started for Kennedy and the D-backs, they were happy to deny the win for Narveson and the Brewers.
Winning for the fourth time in their past five games, the D-backs bounced back well from a not-so-impressive 10-1 loss to the Padres on Sunday. In the four wins, Arizona has averaged 5.75 runs per game while giving up 3.5 runs per game.
“We battled and battled,” Drew said. “Ian, I went up to him and he just didn’t have it, and with the sweat and everything else, trying to find a grip. He finally settled in and we got some timely hits and the walk situations were good for us too.
“Overall, everybody just did what they needed to do to get the win.”
Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
MILWAUKEE — It was the perfect ending to a great week for Corey Hart.
A week after being named to his second All-Star Game, the Brewers right fielder capped the first half of the season with his second walk-off home run on Sunday.
Hart, who had struggled through his first four at-bats of the game, crushed a 1-0 slider out to left off Pirates closer Octavio Dotel, giving the Brewers the 6-5 victory at Miller Park.
“I was trying to see something and get a hit,” Hart said. “When I hit it, I didn’t want to be one of those guys that put my hand way up in the air, so I gave it the half finger because I thought I got it.
“I knew it was going to be over his head, so I knew the run would score.”
Hart’s blast put an exclamation point on what is sure to be a memorable day for him, as he was named to the starting lineup of the National League All-Star squad as a replacement for injured Braves outfielder Jason Heyward.
Afterward, Hart was all smiles after his team-leading 21st home run saved the day for Milwaukee and sent the Brewers into the All-Star break on a positive note.
“They were giving Corey a lot of breaking balls,” Brewers manager Ken Macha said. “He finally got one up and didn’t miss it. That’s a nice ending to the first half.
“The climate in [the clubhouse] is a 180 [degrees different] from the end of the [previous] series.”
Not only did Hart give the Brewers the win, but the two-time All-Star also picked up the slack of closer John Axford.
With the Brewers having tied the score at 4 in the eighth on a pair of singles by Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez, the game was placed in Axford’s hands with the expectation that he would give the home team a chance to win in the bottom half of the ninth.
Axford (5-1), who was pitching for the third straight game, gave up a pair of singles to open the inning, which was followed by a sacrifice fly to right, putting the Pirates ahead by a run.
The first single, which came on a bunt by Ronny Cedeno in which he narrowly avoided a tag by first baseman Prince Fielder, was a call which Axford did not agree with afterward.
“I thought Prince got him right on the heel, so did Prince,” Axford said. “I’m sure if you ask the umpires, they’ll say, ‘No,’ but if you ask them without a paper and pen and maybe a recorder, they might say that he was tagged.
“It was right there. I was standing right in front of it, and it looked pretty good. I even thought I heard it.”
Axford escaped the inning when he snagged a ball hit back through the middle and started a crucial inning-ending double play.
Though he was frustrated when he returned to the dugout, Axford reminded himself that his club was certainly capable of coming back again.
Three batters later, he was right.
Lefty starter Randy Wolf was not as sharp as he might have liked to have been, but he did just enough to keep the Brewers in the game. Wolf allowed four runs on seven hits over six innings while walking three and recording five strikeouts.
For the second straight outing, Wolf had a solid start except for one bad inning — a three-run second frame. The only other blemish was a solo homer in the sixth by rookie third baseman Pedro Alvarez.
“One rough inning,” Wolf said. “I left some balls over the plate, and they had a three-run inning. That last run. … I was successful all day with fastballs to Alvarez and he just finally caught up to one and he barreled it.
“I’m not happy with it, but I’m glad we ended up winning in the end.”
Despite his lack of success early on — Alvarez was 0-for-2 with two strikeouts going into the at-bat — he stuck with it and gave his team the 4-3 lead.
“You never know when you can get a big hit,” he said. “It’s a matter of not giving up, and I just kept with it. I was fortunate enough to put a good swing on the ball.”
Along with Hart’s big blast, the Brewers got two more homers, solo shots by Braun and George Kottaras.
For Braun, who continues to break out of a prolonged slump, the home run was his second in as many games as he went 5-for-8 with two home runs, five runs and three RBIs in the three-game sweep.
After dropping five straight with some of their worst performances of the season, the Brewers head into the All-Star break riding a wave of momentum.
“We feel better about ourselves, that’s a good thing,” Braun said. “It’s irrelevant to think about whether we’ve won four or five games in a row or lost four or five in a row.
“We just need to focus on the task at hand, go inning to inning, at-bat to at-bat, pitch to pitch and try to put ourselves in the best position to be successful.”