Playing on his 25th birthday, J.J. Hardy crushed a go-ahead solo shot to give Milwaukee a one-run cushion in the seventh inning. Had the Brewers held on to the lead, they would have snapped a streak of 15 straight losses with starter Chris Capuano on the mound and given the southpaw something to cheer about on his 29th birthday.
But it seems the baseball gods don't favor players celebrating their birthdays, not even the ones in desperate need for a break.
"No, they don't," Capuano said. "It wasn't a very happy birthday."
Capuano allowed a five-run lead to slip away, and reliever Scott Linebrink then surrendered the tying and go-ahead runs in the eighth inning to let the Reds steal a 7-6 decision from the Brewers before 42,398 fans at Miller Park.
The loss completed a miserable 1-5 homestand for the Brewers. It temporarily dropped them a game out of first place in the National League Central, with the Cubs scheduled to face the Cardinals later in the evening.
"We're not going to beat ourselves up about this one," Linebrink said. "We've got to keep our heads up and understand that we've got some baseball games to play. We're still neck-and-neck right now, so there's no need to start hanging our heads."
Linebrink stood in line to pick up the win after he got the final two outs of the seventh inning and Hardy nudged the Brewers ahead in the bottom half of the frame with his 23rd homer of the year.
But Linebrink (4-4) couldn't hold the lead in the eighth inning. He retired the first batter before loading the bases on a walk and two singles. Pinch-hitter Javier Valentin then laced a thigh-high fastball from Linebrink into the left-center-field gap for a two-run, ground-rule double, giving the Reds a 7-6 lead.
"It was probably a little bit more up than what I was trying to throw," Linebrink said. "You're trying to throw a quality pitch down in the zone."
Reds reliever Bill Bray (2-0) picked up the win by retiring the final Brewers batter in the seventh inning.
Brewers manager Ned Yost had lefty specialist Brian Shouse warming up in the bullpen when the Reds announced the switch-hitting Valentin as their pinch-hitter. Yost decided to leave Linebrink in the game to face Valentin, even though he was hitting .292 against righties but just .231 against lefties.
Reds manager Pete Mackanin and Valentin both expressed their surprise after the game that Yost hadn't brought in Shouse to face the catcher. In fact, as Valentin was running to the dugout from the visitors' bullpen, "I decided to take my time because I thought they would bring in a lefty," he said.
"I wanted to face Valentin from the left side," Yost simply said. "I like Linebrink right there in that situation."
But the Brewers wouldn't have found themselves in that situation in the first place had Capuano managed to hold on to the lead his team had spotted him. The Brewers raced to a 5-0 lead thanks to home runs from Ryan Braun and Bill Hall in the second inning and another one from Prince Fielder in the third.
But the Reds immediately began chipping away. Adam Dunn sliced the lead to 5-2 in the fourth inning, when he crushed a first-pitch fastball from Capuano to center field for a two-run tater.
The southpaw then let the rest of the lead slip away in the sixth, surrendering a two-run shot to Brandon Phillips and then a sacrifice fly to Jeff Conine. He struck out the final two batters of the inning but yelled angrily at himself as he walked off the field.
"I'm not happy about giving the lead back that we had," Capuano said. "But it's easier to look yourself in the mirror when you know you left it all out there. I can hold my head up knowing that I gave everything."
The Brewers now have lost Capuano's last 16 starts, extending a franchise record. The team last won a Capuano start on May 7, when he pitched eight shutout innings in a 3-0 win over the Nationals.
Since then, the southpaw has gone 0-10 with a 6.70 ERA in his last 16 outings. The previous Brewers record for the longest winless streak by a starter belonged to Steve Woodard, who pitched in 14 straight losing efforts spanning the 1999 and 2000 seasons.
Yost had faced tremendous pressure leading up to Sunday to remove Capuano from the rotation. The skipper had said he wanted to give his starter another chance and would re-evaluate things after the start.
"I haven't made my mind up right now," Yost said. "We're just 10 minutes after a tough loss, so sorry if I can't answer that."
The day went so miserably for Capuano and the Brewers that the southpaw found only one consolation Sunday -- at least he hadn't turned the big "3-0."
Said Capuano: "It's a good thing -- one more year."
Kelvin Ang is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.