McGehee's walk-off bails out Hoffman

McGehee's walk-off bails out Hoffman

MILWAUKEE -- Is it too early for the Brewers to be a bit worried about Trevor Hoffman?

The Brewers' 42-year-old closer surrendered a pair of two-out home runs and suffered his first back-to-back blown saves since 2007, but the Brewers rallied to get him a bittersweet win. Casey McGehee covered Hoffman's missteps in the top of the ninth inning with a walk-off home run in the bottom half, good for an 8-7 Brewers win over the Cardinals that averted a three-game St. Louis sweep.

The music was blaring in the clubhouse as the Brewers packed their bags for the season's first road trip, but it didn't exactly feel like a celebration.

"I think it has to concern everybody, to be honest with you," Hoffman said. "But the bottom line is you've got to regroup and be ready to go [Monday]. Quick turnaround."

The Brewers' Sunday Night Baseball appearance was to be followed Monday afternoon in the Cubs' Wrigley Field season opener.

In case there was any doubt, Brewers manager Ken Macha made it clear that Hoffman would be his closer if the Brewers go to the bottom of the ninth inning Monday afternoon with a narrow lead.

"He's going to be back out there, we'll put it that way," Macha said. "I'm sure he's been through tough times over the course of his career."

Count this weekend among them. In Friday's series opener, Hoffman was a strike away from his 594th career save, when unheralded Cardinals utility man Nick Stavinoha touched him for a go-ahead, two-run homer that gave St. Louis a 5-4 win. Sunday's outing was not any easier.

Hoffman retired Stavinoha for the second out of the inning with a man on base and the Brewers holding a 7-4 lead. Up next was Albert Pujols, who had already hit a two-run homer against Brewers starter Randy Wolf, but was 0-for-6 in his career against Hoffman. With two strikes, Hoffman tried to sneak through a fastball and Pujols turned on it for his second home run of the night. Four pitches later, Matt Holliday hit another Hoffman fastball for a solo home run over the center-field wall that tied the game at 7.

"In the ninth inning, we're facing probably one of the best closers in the game, Hoffman. It's tough to score one run against the guy," Pujols said. "Imagine three. But we didn't give up."

The last time Hoffman had blown saves in consecutive outings was at the tail end of 2007, when the Padres were a win away from a postseason berth. Then-Brewers outfielder Tony Gwynn spoiled one save chance on Sept. 29 at Miller Park with an RBI triple, and two days later, Hoffman suffered another blown save in a one-game playoff against the Rockies in Denver. Holliday tied that game with a triple and then famously scored the winning run on a close call at home plate.

Hoffman's current slump is not nearly as damaging, considering that the Brewers are only six games into the season. But it is puzzling nonetheless, so Hoffman was asked what he thinks is going on.

He disputed the notion that his purposely abbreviated Spring Training has anything do to with it. The answer, Hoffman said, is much more simple.

"Not making pitches," he said. "You don't make pitches to big league hitters, and they make you pay. You don't want to get too cliché, but I have to take things one pitch at a time from here on out, keep trying to simplify and try to get people out."

Last time, Hoffman had an entire offseason to regroup. This time, he had about 15 hours from the final pitch of Sunday's game to the scheduled first pitch at Wrigley Field on Monday. He was asked how he planned to work through his mini-slump.

"You just trust your routine," Hoffman said. "I think it's been pretty successful for a while up to this point. You have to trust and believe that it will get you out of this rut."

McGehee at least eased the pain. His one-out home run off Cardinals reliever Kyle McClellan (0-1) made a winner of Hoffman (1-1) and gave the Brewers a split in their six-game, season-opening homestand against the Rockies and Cardinals. It was the first game-ending home run of McGehee's career.

"You have to tip your hat to [the Cardinals] coming back," McGehee said. "Hoffy is human. Sometimes we get spoiled because he appears to be Superman out there. That's going to happen. He's going to be fine, and he's going to bounce back and be Trevor all over again. It's just one night."

Hoffman's ninth-inning struggle spoiled what would have been a supremely satisfying night. Brewers starter Randy Wolf surrendered only two earned runs in 6 2/3 innings and was in line to improve to 2-0 thanks to a surprising home run barrage against Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter.

Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart and Ryan Braun all took Carpenter deep, with Braun's two-run shot coming in a three-run fifth inning rally that gave the Brewers a 7-2 lead.

It didn't last. Now, Pujols and Holliday have moved on, but Hoffman will have to contend with the Cubs' Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez. The closer will have to avoid throwing those fat fastballs.

"When you throw 85 mph right over the middle of the plate, that's usually what happens," Hoffman said, chuckling. "Not to be funny about it, but it's embarrassing."

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