"We scored seven runs. We should have won the game," said Looper, who was charged with six runs on 10 hits in five innings. "It's my job to make that stand, and, I don't know, it's frustrating."
The Brewers have had that frustrating feeling for some time. They were seven games over .500 on the morning of July 1 and they owned a one-game lead in the National League Central. Twenty-six games and 17 losses later, the Brewers went to bed on July 31 in fourth place, one game under .500 and 4 1/2 games behind division-leading St. Louis.
The Padres dismissed hitting coach (and one-time interim Brewers manager) Jim Lefebvre earlier in the day and then set season highs for runs and hits with an attack fueled from the top. Leadoff man Tony Gwynn went 3-for-5 and scored three times, and No. 2 hitter David Eckstein had two hits and three RBIs.
"Even when we were down, 7-1, nobody got down, which was kind of a change," said Gwynn, traded from Milwaukee to San Diego in May. "It seemed like for a while there, if we got too far down, I don't want to say that we let up -- but the energy level wasn't there. But today, it certainly wasn't like that. Everybody stayed in that game."
The Brewers suffered their 26th loss after holding a lead.
"It's very discouraging," Macha said.
It's getting old. When center fielder Mike Cameron was asked whether he and the other veterans had considered closing the clubhouse doors to clear the air, he said they already had. That players-only meeting came in the middle of the last homestand, before the Brewers had to scramble for back-to-back wins on Wednesday and Thursday to salvage a four-game series split with the last-place Nationals.
"We had our talk," Cameron said. "Everyone knows what's at stake at this point in the season. There's no point in dwelling over that."
Did Looper worry that the season could be slipping away?
"I just focus on every start, getting ready and everything else," he said. "We need to win every game. You always want to win. It's not like early in the year we were like, 'Oh, we have plenty of time. It doesn't matter if we lose right now.' ...
"Today, I didn't give us much of a chance. We should have won the game. With a 7-1 lead, we should have won the game."
Looper surrendered a run in a first inning that included right fielder Corey Hart's fielding error, then sparked a two-out, seven-run outburst against Padres starter Chad Gaudin in the second. After J.J. Hardy and Jason Kendall struck out with the bases loaded, Looper slapped a two-run single to center field for a 2-1 lead.
He was the first of seven consecutive Brewers batters to reach base. Felipe Lopez and Hart drove in a run apiece and Prince Fielder delivered a two-run single.
"It's tough to say that I was a better hitter than a pitcher today," Looper said. "I don't ever want to say that."
But he did, after the Padres chipped away to match their biggest comeback win of the year. San Diego scored four runs in the fourth inning on Eckstein's two-run double and Will Venable's two-run home run and another run in the fifth on Kyle Blanks' home run.
Dillard inherited a 7-6 lead in the decisive sixth inning and surrendered three runs, all of them earned despite a tough error charged to first baseman Fielder. Pinch-hitter Oscar Salazar tied the score with an RBI double, and Eckstein gave the Padres the lead with a sacrifice fly.
"There's three aspects to the game, pitching, defense and hitting, and we didn't do very well at two of them," Macha said, before repeating a familiar theme. "We didn't make many pitches."
The Padres did. Reliever Edward Mujica (3-4) earned the win with 4 1/3 scoreless innings of relief. After sending 13 men to the plate in the second inning, the Brewers managed only three hits over the final seven innings against Mujica and relievers Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams and Heath Bell. Particularly impressive to Macha was Adams, who pitched for the Brewers from 2004-06 and briefly held the closer's role.
to play better baseball," Cameron said. "That's a tough loss, man."
Looper was the Brewers' most established starter in the three-game series. Mike Burns will return from a demotion to Triple-A Nashville to pitch on Saturday, and reliever-turned-starter Carlos Villanueva will make his second start of the season on Sunday.
"We had better come out tomorrow ready to play, because nobody over there is going to lay down because of what their record is," Cameron said of the 42-62 Padres. "They've got a lot of young guys over there who are hungry. We need to match that a little bit."