It might have only been the sixth game of the 2013 season, the finale of their second series, but the Brewers battle against the Diamondbacks on April 7th would come to encapsulate their entire season. A few strong personal performances were eventually overcome by injuries, mistakes, and poor play. And all of it overshadowed by the specter of “what if Ryan Braun…”. It might have been a frustrating game to watch but it’s the game that best explains what happened to the 2013 Brewers.
An impressive 37,733 fans spun Miller Park’s turnstiles for the afternoon affair and snagged a Norichika Aoki bobblehead. Even though the Brewers started the season 1-4, fans believed the team was better than they were playing. Yovani Gallardo toed the rubber for the second time, following a forgettable opening day no decision. He’d deliver another unremarkable start (6 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 3 K), a trend that would plague him until landing on the DL in late July.
Meanwhile, Ron Roenicke must have felt that he was still in Spring Training when filling out the line-up card. For the sixth game of the season, the Brewers line-up looked like this –
- Norichika Aoki (RF)
- Carlos Gomez (CF)
- Jean Segura (SS)
- Rickie Weeks (2B)
- Alex Gonzalez (3B)
- Logan Schafer (LF)
- Yuniesky Betancourt (1B)
- Martin Maldonado (C)
- Yovani Gallardo (P)
Injuries were already ravaging a club constructed with bench players that would struggle to play at a replacement level. The doubles-machine Aramis Ramirez started the season hitting three two-baggers during the first four games before he re-injured his knee and landed on the DL. He would return in early May but his power wouldn’t for much longer. Ryan Braun was absent for the third consecutive game after neck spasms made it hard for him to swing a bat. It was rumored that was available to pinch hit, if his team needed him, but no one knew if that report was true or not.
To add fuel to the injury fire, Jean Segura took a hard slide from Gerardo Parra during the fifth inning and was forced to leave the game with a left quad bruise. The injury not only knocked out one of the Brewers early season success stories, it also foreshadowed how first base would become a revolving door of the least bad option for the Brewers. Following Segura’s removal, Alex Gonzalez, originally starting at third, slid to shortstop. Starting first baseman Yuniesky Betancourt moved to third. Martin Maldonado took off the catching gear and picked up a first baseman’s mitt. And Jonathan Lucroy got on track to becoming an everyday player by coming off the bench to catch Gallardo. Got all that? The Brewers had to do all of that scrambling, in the sixth game of the year, to fill one vacancy. Somehow that scrambling never stopped all season.
On the bright side, a few strong individual performances kept the Brewers competitive. Norichika Aoki went 4 for 6 with 3 RBIs, 2 R, and 1 SB on his bobblehead day. Off the bench, Lucroy, who was hitting a paltry .118 to start the season, went 2 for 3 with 2 RBIs and a HBP. Carlos Gomez also had a two hit day and drove in one run. Finally, even Alex Gonzalez got in on the action by hitting a home run, a line drive down the left field line that barely made it over the fence. It was his first and only home run of the season.
Gallardo was done after six innings with the Brewers trailing 4-3. The game was now in the hands of the Brewers bullpen. Burke Badenhop came on and allowed a single then a home run to put the Brewers down 6-3. He retired the next three batters in order. The Brewers got a run back in the bottom of the 7th. Then Tom Gorzelanny and Jim Henderson pitched strong and scoreless 8th and 9th innings, respectively. Keeping the Brewers close enough to rally in the bottom of the 9th and tie the game.
It was not pretty but the Brewers had managed to force the game into extra innings. This allowed for the appearance of two staples of the Brewers 2013 season – good John Axford and bad John Axford. Good Axford pitched the 10th inning. Needing only 11 pitches to induce two fly balls and notch a strike out. Bad Axford returned to pitch the 11th inning. He took the count to 0-2 on Cliff Pennington then gave up a double. Bad Axford then got ahead of pinch hitter Eric Hinske, 1-2, before allowing a long home run to center field. Axford’s day was done and Michael Gonzalez came on in relief.
Even though they were down 8-6, the Brewers still had some fight in them. Three consecutive singles brought the score to 8-7 and, with one out, they had the tying run on third. Rickie Weeks stepped to the plate and Ryan Braun into the on deck circle. Brewers’ fans grew hopeful that Braun could step out from the shadows and help the team win. But, after Weeks struck out looking, Braun disappointed the Brewers faithful and disappeared back into the dugout. Even if Braun wanted to, he was in no position to help the Brewers.
In Braun’s place, Roenicke’s best option off the bench was Kyle Lohse. Six games into the season, injuries and pitching changes had depleted the Brewers bench so drastically that no healthy position players were available. Unsurprisingly, Lohse struck out looking.
Following a game in which the Brewers featured two different, below average first basemen, both the good and bad John Axford, an unavailable Ryan Braun, and a pitcher batting with the game on the line, the Brewers slipped to 1-5 on the young season. At the time, Brewers fans believed it was just a strange, fluky game. None of us expected it to be such a harbinger of the troubles that the team would face all season.