CINCINNATI -- Even the most exasperated of Brewers fans would have had to chuckle about the following three-line memo, sent by the Reds early Saturday afternoon: "There will be no fireworks today following a Reds home run or a Reds win. "Because of last week's storm, Rozzi's World Famous Fireworks had to stop production of fireworks.
"The company exhausted today's supply of fireworks thanks to last night's seven home runs by the Reds." In other words, the Brewers are not just struggling in September. They are helping to exhaust southern Ohio's supply of fireworks. So that it was, the Reds once again high-fived their way across the infield without any oohs and ahhs from the fans in the stands Saturday, homerless but victorious in a 4-3 win over the Brewers that pushed Milwaukee closer to missing the playoffs for the 26th consecutive season. Brewers workhorse CC Sabathia (9-2 while with Milwaukee) did his job on short rest, but an error by first baseman Prince Fielder contributed to three unearned runs in the sixth inning, and Cincinnati closer Francisco Cordero struck out Fielder with the bases loaded in the ninth to send Milwaukee to its 15th loss in 19 games this month. The Brewers are 2 1/2 games behind in the National League Wild Card standings after the Mets and Phillies flip-flopped spots atop the NL East and NL Wild Card with a loss and a win, respectively. Mathematically, the Brewers have seven games left and are still alive. Realistically? Well, they were not willing to go there just yet. "All we can really control is our attitude, so why not try to be positive?" Fielder said. "That's the only thing you can control." Acting manager Dale Sveum was more blunt. "It's an uphill battle now," Sveum said. "With seven games left, you're battling two teams, possibly three teams. It's getting to that point where realistically you have to win every game, almost. That's got to be your mindset. "But you can't win seven in a row until you win that first one."
What else can go wrong for a team that less than three weeks ago owned a 5 1/2-game hold of the Wild Card, the second-best record in the NL and was tied for the fourth-best mark in baseball?
The weirdness continued for Milwaukee on Saturday, when Sabathia was tough through the first five innings on three days' rest, but then got into a jam courtesy of Fielder and surrendered a go-ahead run to a Reds pitcher -- Micah Owings -- who stepped in as a pinch-hitter. Owings' hit was an opposite-field bloop that dropped over first base.
"When it rains, it pours," Sabathia said. "We've been getting a raw deal on everything."
Sabathia appeared to be in early trouble when he surrendered singles to the first three Reds hitters he faced, including a knock by Joey Votto that gave Cincinnati a quick lead. Sabathia then retired 15 of the next 17 hitters he faced through the end of the fifth while allowing only one harmless hit, a bunt single in the fifth inning by opposing starter Johnny Cueto (9-13).
Votto singled again leading off the sixth inning to spark the go-ahead rally. Andy Phillips worked a walk before Fielder bobbled Corey Patterson's routine sacrifice bunt to leave the bases loaded with no outs and Sabathia in a jam.
"I panicked because he was flying," Fielder said, referring to Patterson sprinting up the baseline. "I panicked. I just messed it up."
Sabathia nearly worked out of it, retiring Jolbert Cabrera on a foulout to the catcher and then striking out Ryan Hanigan. The Reds replaced shortstop Paul Janish with Owings -- a pitcher who can hit -- and Owings blooped a 2-0 pitch into right field for a two-run single and a 3-2 lead.
"That's when you know things are going bad," Sveum said. "But we all know how good a hitter he is. It's not like he's a pitcher up there. The guy has proven he can hit. Dusty [Baker, the Reds' manager] is not going to use him if he doesn't have complete confidence in him."
Another pinch-hitter, Adam Rosales, followed with another single that drove home Patterson for a 4-2 lead.
|"When it rains, it pours. We've been getting a raw deal on everything."|
|-- Brewers starter CC Sabathia|
"I tried," Sabathia said. "I guess that's all you can do. Work hard and leave it all on the field."Sabathia surrendered four runs -- only one of which was earned -- and was charged with his second consecutive loss after going 9-0 in his first 13 Brewers starts. "I felt good," said Sabathia, who had not started on short rest since his rookie season in 2001. "It felt like a normal start." If the Brewers really want to push Sabathia, a free agent at season's end, they can use him again on three days' rest Wednesday. Then they could do it again in the regular-season finale Sept. 28, if that game is meaningful. If the Brewers asked, would he do it? "No doubt," Sabathia said. Garth Iorg, filling in for Sveum as the Brewers' third-base coach, had another tough afternoon. Fielder hit an RBI double that tied the game in the fourth inning, but was then waved home by Iorg on Corey Hart's single and thrown out by a wide margin. The decision to send Fielder loomed large when Weeks hit an RBI triple later in the inning that scored Hart for a 2-1 lead, but could have also scored Fielder. "The way the third-base life goes, if the throw is a little bit off line, you're just considered an aggressive third-base coach," Sveum said. "When they throw it on line and he's out by a few feet, that's a bad decision. That's not what cost us the ballgame." The Reds escaped one bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning when left-hander Bill Bray jammed pinch-hitter Bill Hall with a cut fastball, breaking Hall's bat on a popout. In a 4-2 hole, Milwaukee nearly came back in the ninth against Cordero. Rickie Weeks, who finished 3-for-3, homered leading off the ninth inning, and a two-out error by shortstop Jeff Keppinger helped the Brewers load the bases. Ryan Braun was the final baserunner to reach when he worked a tough walk. But Cordero struck out Fielder on four pitches to finish his 32nd save. "He just made better pitches than my swing," Fielder said.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.