MILWAUKEE -- Jeff Suppan always says his goal is to keep his team in the game, but this time he pitched the Brewers right out of one. Suppan and reliever Jorge Julio tied a modern Major League record when they combined for four bases-loaded walks in the fourth inning, and the Cubs pulled away for an 8-5 win in front of 40,168 at Miller Park, plus a national television audience that tuned in for Milwaukee's first Sunday night game in 12 years. Prince Fielder nearly slugged the Brewers back into the game in the fifth, only to see his game-tying grand slam pulled back by Cubs right fielder Reed Johnson with a spectacular defensive effort. Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks hit solo home runs where Cubs outfielders couldn't reach them, and J.J. Hardy drove in a pair of runs without the benefit of a hit, but the Brewers dropped the series against their National League Central rivals, two games to one.
The pitching was the culprit, manager Ken Macha said. "Ten walks, a couple hit batsmen. Five of the guys we walked scored and one hit batsmen scored," Macha said. "That wasn't a very well-pitched game." Much of the blame for that fell to Suppan (0-2), who walked six batters in 3 2/3 innings and was charged with five earned runs. His first pitch was belted for a home run by Cubs leadoff hitter Alfonso Soriano, but that was one of only two Cubs hits off Suppan. Walks, not hits, did him in. The score was tied at 1 entering the decisive fourth inning, when the Cubs loaded the bases with one out. Suppan walked No. 8 hitter Koyie Hill on four pitches -- a no-no with Cubs starting pitcher Ryan Dempster (1-0) standing on deck -- to force home the go-ahead run. Dempster followed with a fielder's choice grounder, and the Brewers retired the lead runner at the plate to leave Suppan one out away from an escape. Instead, he walked Soriano on a 3-2 pitch to force in another run. Kosuke Fukudome also looked at a full-count Ball 4 to make it 4-1 before Macha called for Julio, who walked Derrek Lee on four pitches to make it 5-1. Since divisional play began in 1969, teams have issued four bases-loaded walks in an inning nine times, including twice in the past five days. The Braves did it Wednesday in a loss to the Phillies. "Just a poor job," Suppan said. "I'll think about it tonight and then get ready for my next start." Did he feel tentative? "There were a couple of pitches that 'cut off,' or I tried to throw it a little too hard," Suppan said. "But for the most part, I feel like I wasn't [tentative]. I was going after that out." Suppan is winless in his last eight Brewers starts, including Game 4 of last year's National League Division Series against the Phillies, with a 10.13 ERA -- 36 earned runs in 32 innings -- in those games. He's allowed 12 home runs in a span that's all the more baffling, considering that Suppan was 5-0 with a 3.00 ERA last August. "The way I get myself going is go back to my foundations," Suppan said. "Go back to location, changing of speeds and working fast. That's how I pitch, and I try to get ground balls." For the record, Suppan said last year's elbow problem is a "non-issue" today. Macha was at a loss to explain Sunday's outing, calling it, "a tough one to figure out," because Suppan was missing where pitchers like to miss: down. But the veteran has worked only 7 2/3 innings in his two starts, and Macha worries that the short outings could cause trouble in the bullpen. "You've got to give us six innings," Macha said. "That's two starts now in a row where I'm in the bullpen for a lot of innings. He's got to trust his stuff and go after the hitters. ... He fell behind and he was trying to stay away from throwing straight fastballs, so he's trying to sink it and cut it and keep it down. It wasn't happening." Suppan was not the only Brewers pitcher having trouble finding the strike zone. After escaping the fourth inning, Julio walked Mike Fontenot, who scored on Ryan Theriot's double. In the eighth, Seth McClung walked Joey Gathright, who eventually scored on Lee's sacrifice fly. In the ninth, Mitch Stetter walked Theriot, and he scored on Hill's double. Still, the Brewers nearly staged a comeback. Fielder almost tied the game when he hit a bases-loaded fly ball to right field in the fourth that was on the way to being his first career grand slam. But Johnson, a replacement for the injured Milton Bradley, leaped and pulled the baseball back into play. Fielder settled for a sacrifice fly, and he waited to make eye contact with Johnson before tipping his batting helmet. "Not too many people can make that play," Fielder said. "I was a little bit [shocked]. I don't have a grand slam yet, so it would be pretty cool." Hardy followed Fielder with a run-scoring groundout that cut the deficit to 6-4. In the ninth, trailing 8-4, Weeks hit a long homer to left field off Cubs closer Kevin Gregg, and the Brewers put two more men on base with two outs for Fielder, who represented the tying run. Gregg struck him out on a high fastball to end the game. The Brewers fell to 2-4, and they will host the Reds for three games beginning Monday. "I think we'll turn it around," 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.