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Brewers formally out of NL Central race

Brewers formally out of NL Central

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MILWAUKEE -- The franchise records continued to fall at Miller Park, but Braden Looper wanted no part of this one.

Looper surrendered his 36th and 37th home runs in the span of three pitches to break Wayne Franklin's dubious club mark, and the Brewers were trounced in the opener of a three-game series against the Cubs, 10-2, on Monday night.

Even before the game was over, the inevitable became official for Milwaukee. With the Cardinals' win in Houston, the Brewers were formally eliminated in the National League Central.

"The fact still remains that we led this division for a long time," Brewers manager Ken Macha said. "I think it was July 1 and we still had the lead. Then [Jeff Suppan] goes down and [Dave Bush] goes down and we didn't play very well."

"Realistically, you knew it was going to happen," said center fielder Mike Cameron, who homered twice to reach a personal milestone. "That doesn't stop us from busting our butts out there to finish strong."

The Brewers led the division as late as July 4. Now they need to win eight of their final 12 games to salvage a winning season.

Milwaukee's elimination number in the NL Wild Card race fell to two, meaning that any combination of Brewers losses or Rockies wins would officially end the Brewers' bid to repeat as postseason participants.

Cameron did his part Monday with his 20th and 21st home runs, giving him four consecutive seasons and eight overall with at least 20 homers, but Looper (13-7) left the Brewers in a deep hole. He surrendered seven runs before the end of the second inning in his first loss since Aug. 11.

Ryan Theriot got the Cubs started with an infield single in the top of the first inning, and Kosuke Fukudome followed with a bloop double that may have changed the complexion of the inning. Brewers second baseman Felipe Lopez nearly made a great catch of a ball that probably should have belonged to right fielder Corey Hart, who not only was playing deep, but playing on legs still slowed by surgery last month to remove his appendix.

"I wouldn't pinpoint that one play," Looper said. "It was a situation where, every pitch I threw, they hit. They didn't hit them all very hard, but every single one they swung at seemed to find a hole. It was just one of those days where I didn't give us a chance from the beginning."

Derrek Lee didn't need a hole for his hard-hit double off the wall, and he touched Looper again in the second inning for a two-run homer, giving Lee two hits and four RBIs before five members of Milwaukee's starting lineup had even stepped to the plate.

Two pitches after Lee's blast, Aramis Ramirez hit a solo shot for a 7-0 lead.

Looper has surrendered 37 home runs this season, most in the Majors and a new Brewers record. Franklin, a left-hander, set the previous mark when he surrendered 36 home runs in 2003. Before that, Mike Caldwell held the record from 1983, when he surrendered 34 homers but also pitched 228 1/3 innings.

Looper, for comparison, has worked 182 2/3 innings, including his four frames on Monday. Pitching in hitter-friendly Miller Park certainly hasn't helped, and Looper shrugged his shoulders at the pitches that went for homers on Monday. Lee hit a sinker inside, and Ramirez pulled a pitch that was outside, off the plate.

"His thing is getting some movement on the ball and being down in the zone and getting some grounders," Macha said. "They just haven't missed too many of the ones he leaves up. We've had some starts where he's been good, and I always say that when he stands tall and gets 'downhill,' he does have that sink. It just wasn't there tonight.

"It's not the ballpark's fault," Looper said. "It's my fault."

Looper's seven runs matched a season high, and he surrendered 10 hits before Macha tapped the bullpen.

Cubs starter Tom Gorzelanny (6-2) won after holding the Brewers to two runs in five innings. He matched a career high with nine strikeouts in his first start against Milwaukee since 2008, when he was 1-3 with a 7.59 ERA against the Brewers.

"The difference was it's a new year," Gorzelanny said. "It's a lot different scenario for me now than it was last year."

The Brewers' best opportunities came after Gorzelanny exited. They loaded the bases with one out in the sixth inning and put two men on base with one out in the seventh, but double plays ended both rallies.

"That was our chance to get into the game," Macha said.

The Cubs snapped Milwaukee's five-game winning streak and denied the Brewers (74-76) their first taste of .500 since they were 58-58 on Aug. 15. Monday marked Milwaukee's most lopsided loss since a 17-4 drubbing in Los Angeles on Aug. 4. That game was famous for Prince Fielder's postgame charge toward the Dodgers' clubhouse.

Fielder, who set the franchise RBI record on Saturday and then the franchise walks record on Sunday, was a quiet 0-for-4 on Monday.

But there were milestones for the Brewers in relief. Right-hander Seth McClung made his first appearance since suffering an elbow injury on July 24 and was charged with a run on a bloop, two-out double.

Up next was righty Josh Butler, a promising Brewers prospect who made his Major League debut. Butler had a busy two innings, allowing two runs on two hits with two walks, a strikeout, a wild pitch and a hit batsman.

"I thought Butler did OK," Macha said. "A little wildness ... but I think he got the butterflies out of there. I hope so."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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