New manager, new coaches, new batting order. Same old Brewers. At least for the first five innings.
Then glimpses of the old team, the one that stood at 80-56 through Aug. 31 with new skipper Dale Sveum in the third base coaching box, resurfaced as Milwaukee fought back from a 3-0 deficit to climb to within 3-2, 4-3 and finally 5-4 in the ninth before falling to the first-place Cubs, who reduced their magic number to winning the NL Central to four Tuesday night.
The snake-bitten Brewers, especially right-handed hitters Mike Cameron, Ryan, Braun, J.J. Hardy and Corey Hart, continued to scuffle and couldn't adjust their approaches against right-hander Ryan Dempster and other Cubs hurlers. All they had to do was watch Chicago's hitters repeatedly hit the ball to right field in handing CC Sabathia (9-1) his first setback since joining the Brewers.
Milwaukee's offense scuffled again, although they made Dempster throw a lot of pitches. They just didn't make him pay for it nearly enough as he threw 92 pitches through five innings and left after 114 offerings in six.
Luckily for Milwaukee, many of the other competitors for the wild-card also took it on the chin: hard-luck Houston lost at Florida, the Mets fell for a second straight day at Washington and St. Louis stumbled at Cincy. However, the Phillies rallied past Atlanta to move past New York, which means the Mets actually lead the Brewers by a half game atop the wild-card chase.
Craig Counsell and Jason Kendall singled and Sabathia sacrificed but reached on Dempster's error to load the bases in the fifth. But new lead-off hitter Cameron pulled a grounder to third that Aramis Ramirez turned into a double play to douse the threat and prevent Dempster's early exit.
Ray Durham led off the sixth with a double to right-center, but Ryan Braun popped up. Then Prince Fielder blasted one onto Sheffield Avenue to cut the deficit to 3-2. Hardy bounced a single up the middle, but Reed Johnson made a diving catch on Hart's looping liner into left-center for the second out. Counsell grounded a single to right to put runners on first and second before Kendall popped out to Derrek Lee.
However, it was the first sign of life for Milwaukee since the eighth inning of its finale at home last Wednesday.
Alfonso Soriano continued his mastery of Sabathia with a line drive homer that barely cleared the netting in left, his 29th long ball, to make it 4-2 in the seventh. Fielder responded with his second bomb, this one to left-center on the first offering from Carlos Marmol in the eighth to cut the deficit to one again at 4-3.
Ramirez doubled to right off Carlos Villaneuva to start the eighth. He went to third on a grounder and Mark DeRosa was hit by a pitch. Villanueva struck out Johnson looking on a 3-2 count for the second out. Brian Shouse ended up facing Henry Blanco and the latter delivered a single to center for a 5-3 cushion.
Chicago closer Kerry Wood started the ninth by getting Kendall to fly out. Pinch hitter Mike Lamb singled to right and with two outs pinch runner Alcides Escobar raced around on Durham's double to right to make it 5-4. Braun swung at two high pitches but singled to the hole at short to put runners on the corners to bring up Fielder. He worked the count full and took a nasty breaking ball for strike three to end it.
The Cubs, hot off their two-game home series against Houston at Miller Park, have lost only four series at home this season, and the Brewers handed them two of them in their first two trips to the Windy City in April.
So, another tough defeat, the Brewers' fifth in a row, and only 11 games remaining to make something magical come out of a horrendous September (3-12).
Odds and ends
--Outfielder Gabe Kapler is scheduled to rejoin the team Thursday, but more than likely he'll only be used as a pinch-hitter or pinch runner.
--Dave Bush will start Thursday in the series finale, as Sveum has moved Manny Parra to the bullpen and puts Seth McClung back into a starting role, which he'll assume Friday in the opener at Cincinnati.
--Yovanni Gallardo is scheduled for another simulated game session Friday and could possibly be added to the bullpen after missing almost the entire season with the knee injury he sustained in the team's last trip to Wrigley.
--That would give the Brewers a big boost because David Riske will undergo elbow surgery Sept. 23.