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Suppan struggles against old foe

Suppan struggles against old foe

MILWAUKEE -- The Phillies moved a step closer to punching their return ticket to the postseason. The Brewers slipped a step closer to following their own Cinderella season with a losing one.

Jeff Suppan didn't fare much better against the Phillies this time than he did the last, allowing seven earned runs in a 9-4 loss at Miller Park on Thursday that felt a lot like Game 4 of last year's National League Division Series.

Jimmy Rollins homered off Suppan last October as the Phillies bounced the Brewers from the playoffs, and Rollins repeated the feat on Thursday. His three-run homer capped a six-run Phillies fifth inning that put the game away and sent the Brewers three games under .500 with nine games to play.

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"We had a good game going there until the fifth inning," Brewers manager Ken Macha said.

Philadelphia added a half-game to its lead in the National League East over the idle Braves, who sit seven games back with only 10 to play. The winner was left-hander J.A. Happ (11-4), a National League Rookie of the Year hopeful who allowed two Brewers runs and six hits in 5 2/3 innings.

In his first start against the Phillies since last season's postseason eliminator, Suppan (7-11) allowed eight runs (seven earned) on a season-high 12 hits. He lasted only 4 1/3 innings.

The Phillies had only a 2-1 lead entering the decisive fifth, when Suppan struck out Ryan Howard to start the inning and induced a routine Jayson Werth grounder to shortstop Alcides Escobar. But the rookie bounced the throw for an error, and the Phillies were off to the races.

Suppan surrendered hits to each of the next five hitters, including Happ, who entered the night with an .075 batting average but stroked an RBI single. Rollins followed with a long three-run homer to right field to make it an 8-2 lead.

"He couldn't stop the bleeding there, even to the pitcher," Macha said.

Did the error somehow throw Suppan off?

"That's all a part of the game," Suppan said. "I think it was a matter of them having me in the stretch pretty much the whole game. I was trying to grind out the innings. In the fifth, I wasn't able to make the pitches I would have liked, and they were able to put up a big number. There's a lot of ways they can beat you -- speed, power, guys who hit for average. That's a well-balanced lineup."

Casey McGehee drove in two runs, and Felipe Lopez and Prince Fielder drove in one apiece for the Brewers in a losing effort. McGehee, one of Happ's competitors in the Rookie of the Year stakes, took the Major League lead with 23 September RBIs.

Fielder and Howard jockeyed for the season-long RBI crown. Howard drove in a run in the first inning and another in the top of the eighth to temporarily take the lead with 132. Fielder answered with a run-scoring grounder in the ninth to tie him atop the leaderboard.

Fielder nearly had another RBI in the sixth. He smoked a double over the center fielder's head with Corey Hart at first base. Hart, still working back to full speed after missing all of August following an appendectomy, had momentarily slowed just before seeing third-base coach Brad Fischer waving him home.

Hart arrived well after the baseball and lowered his shoulder into Phillies catcher Paul Bako, who held on for the out. Was it a case of Fischer trying to help Fielder win the league's RBI crown?

"I hope not," Macha said. "We're out there trying to win the game. They made a nice play, but looking back at it, down [six] runs we need a bunch of runs to score. So that wasn't the best of 'sends.'"

"Sometimes you have a chance to get ready, but that was one of those quick ones," Bako said. "It was just a good baseball play all the way around. Hart he did what he had to do, and it worked out in our favor."

Before the outburst in the decisive fifth, Suppan had kept the game close. Howard hit an RBI single in the first inning, but the Brewers answered in the third with a little luck. With Jason Kendall at third after a triple, Lopez hit a grounder up the middle that struck Happ in the foot and caromed far enough away from second baseman Chase Utley for Lopez to leg out an RBI infield single.

Suppan gave the lead back with consecutive doubles leading off the top of the fourth, then was hammered in the fifth. Happ, meanwhile, allowed only one more run, on back-to-back doubles by Fielder and McGehee in the sixth.

"He hides the ball real well," Macha said. "If you look at his pure velocity, it's not real high. But he kind of closes up a little bit and brings the ball from over his head so it jumps up on the hitter. So when he's throwing 89 or 90 [mph], because you don't pick the ball up, it's like 93. I thought he had a very good changeup tonight, and for one of Ryan [Braun's] strikeouts, he threw a little cutter. That was very effective. That ball jumps up on you."

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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