MILWAUKEE -- The All-Star break can't come soon enough for the struggling Brewers. Trevor Hoffman suffered his second blown save in 21 chances in the ninth inning, and fellow reliever Carlos Villanueva was hammered for six runs in the 10th as Milwaukee lost a second straight heartbreaker, 12-8, to the Dodgers at sold-out Miller Park on Friday. Instead of beating the team with Major League Baseball's best record, Villanueva (2-6) took the loss for the second straight day and the Brewers opened the final series before the All-Star break with their seventh loss in nine games.
"We couldn't close the deal," Brewers manager Ken Macha said. "Everything broke loose in the 10th." Mat Gamel's fourth career home run, a solo shot in the bottom of the eighth inning, put the Brewers in line for a better outcome. But Hoffman let a 6-5 lead slip away in the ninth on a trio of singles, including a tying hit up the middle by former Brewers player Mark Loretta, and Villanueva's recent struggles continued in the 10th. Villanueva retired the first hitter he faced, but the next six reached safely in a rally sparked by Manny Ramirez's walk -- more on Manny later. Casey Blake gave the Dodgers the lead for good with an RBI triple and scored an insurance run on Russell Martin's infield hit. Martin, in turn, scored when Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp hit a grand slam off Villanueva that gave the visitors a 12-6 lead and sent most of the 41,811 fans to the exits. It's been a tough two days for Villanueva, who entered Thursday's game against the Cardinals with a 1-0 lead and didn't retire either of the hitters he faced. He was at his locker, waiting for reporters, after taking that loss. On Friday, Villanueva had dressed and left the clubhouse before reporters were let in. "It's unfortunate that I put Villa in that situation tonight," Hoffman said. "If I go out and do my job, he doesn't come into the ballgame. We have a couple days left and then we get a break." The Dodgers' 10th-inning outburst made for a relatively quiet end to what had been a hard-fought game that featured nine lead changes or ties. For the Brewers, J.J. Hardy had two hits and three RBIs and Gamel and Frank Catalanotto each drove in a pair of runs. But Brewers starter Braden Looper couldn't keep the Dodgers (55-31) in the ballpark on a warm, calm night at Miller Park that was made for hitters. He surrendered only five hits in six innings of work, but four of the hits were home runs, including Ramirez's go-ahead, two-run shot in the sixth inning. It was the 536th homer of Ramirez's career, leaving him tied with Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle for 15th on Major League Baseball's all-time leaderboard. "He's a guy you can't make mistakes to," Looper said. "Going into the game, I was going to try to pitch him like I do Albert [Pujols]. That's the best comparison I can make, and that's about as much respect as you can give somebody." The Dodgers' other three homers were solo shots. Andre Ethier gave L.A. an early lead when he hit his team-best 17th home run with one out in the first inning, James Loney briefly tied the game at 2 in the fourth and Martin followed three batters after Ramirez with a homer of his own. "It's frustrating, because I felt like I threw the ball pretty well," Looper said. "A couple of them were pretty good pitches, a couple of them I made bad mistakes. When I made a mistake, they made me pay. "I wish I could have kept a couple of those balls in the ballpark. We scored enough runs to win today." If Looper was taking blame for the loss, so was Hoffman. He lost hold of a 6-5 lead in the span of five pitches in the ninth, when Martin led off with a single, moved to second on a sacrifice and to third on Kemp's perfectly-placed bunt single. In the span of three pitches, the Dodgers had the tying run at third base. Loretta actually looked at a first-pitch strike before singling up the middle on the next offering. Hoffman escaped with the tie intact, but since working 18 scoreless appearances to begin his Brewers career, Hoffman has a 7.36 ERA over his past eight games. The opponents' plan has been familiar: swing early. "I don't know if it's the scouting report or just familiarity," said Hoffman, who has faced the Dodgers 96 times in his career, more than any other team. "You just have to make pitches. Regardless of how well you know certain hitters or certain pitchers, if [a pitcher] can execute, you're going to be OK." Villanueva was charged with six runs on three hits and three walks in one-third of an inning, and over the past two games, has seen his ERA jump from 4.62 to 6.41. He has been struggling for a while now; since working 16 consecutive scoreless outings from May 5 to June 6, he has allowed 18 earned runs and 26 hits in 12 1/3 innings over 14 games. Opponents are hitting .419 (26-for-62) in that span. But Macha disputed the notion that Villanueva has been struggling. He pointed out that before Thursday, Villanueva had put together four consecutive scoreless outings. "I think the thing that concerns me is you don't know what you're going to get," Macha said. The Brewers (44-42) actually had a chance in the bottom of the 10th inning, when Catalanotto hit Milwaukee's third sacrifice fly of the game and Hardy drove in a run with a single. Jason Kendall nearly added two more runs with a long drive to straightaway center field, but Kemp tracked it down with an outstanding over-the-shoulder catch to end the game. "We could have sat on our hands, but we had a lot of life on the bench," Macha said. "Everybody was pulling for each other and guys had great at-bats. Then to rub a little salt in the wound, the guy goes over-the-shoulder out there in center field, otherwise we've got the tying run coming to the plate. It was a little bit fitting for the night."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.