Commentary

Once-bubbly Brewers going flat fast

Originally Published: September 12, 2008
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- The manager of the Milwaukee Brewers says he doesn't watch scoreboards. Doesn't worry about stuff he can't control. Doesn't even know exactly what the old games-ahead and games-behind columns in the standings look like.

Hmmm. Well, it might be time for Ned Yost to take a look.

Or, then again, maybe not.

NL WILD CARD
TEAM RECORD GB
Milwaukee 83-64 --
Philadelphia 80-67 3
Houston 80-67 3
St. Louis 78-68 4.5
NL WILD CARD (AUG. 27)
TEAM RECORD GB
Milwaukee 77-55 --
N.Y. Mets 73-60 4.5
St. Louis 73-60 4.5
Houston 66-66 11
For more on the races, see Hunt for October.
Because those standings are not getting any more attractive for a team that was sure it had its October reservations all made and confirmed about a week ago.

Now, all of a sudden, here's what has become of the Brewers' seemingly safe lead in the National League wild-as-ever-card race, after their eighth loss in 11 games this month, a 6-3 thumping Thursday in Philadelphia:

The Phillies -- a team that didn't even have this race on its radar a week ago -- now are only three games back and have three more home games to play against the Brewers this weekend.

And the Astros -- a team that was 12½ games out in this derby a mere month and a half ago -- also are just three games behind. They have gone a ridiculous 14-1 since Aug. 27 and still have 13 games left against non-contenders, hurricanes permitting.

So if the manager of the Brewers does happen to stumble upon those standings today, let's just say he won't find the view as breathtaking as the Grand Canyon.

"I know the field is bunched up now," Yost said Thursday. "But you know what? If we win, it doesn't matter. So I don't really watch who's behind us, because if we win, it doesn't matter."

Right he is. So they might try winning a little more, just to make sure it doesn't matter.

But it's tough to win when you're averaging 2.8 runs a game -- which is how many runs the Brewers have scored in their 11 games this month. And it's tough to win when the guys who used to comprise the back of your bullpen -- Salomon Torres, Eric Gagne and David Riske -- have a September ERA of 8.25.

And it's really, really tough to win when you can't figure out a way to start CC Sabathia every darned day, seeing as how, since Aug. 13, the Brewers are 5-0 when Sabathia starts -- and 9-13 when anybody not named Sabathia starts.

Well, CC won't be starting any games in this Phillies series, we're afraid. And the assistant ace, Ben Sheets, got outdueled by 45-year-old Jamie Moyer on Thursday. So these next three games in Philadelphia are looking bigger and scarier by the minute.

"This is a big series," center fielder Mike Cameron said. "We've got a chance to hone everything down. … This is it for us."

[+] EnlargeBen Sheets
Howard Smith/US PresswireEntering Thursday's start, Ben Sheets had thrown 20 consecutive scoreless innings. The Phillies put a 2 on the board in the first inning.
OK, now the good news on the honing front: Unlike last year, at least the Brewers have been here, done this.

"Last year, we'd never gone through it before," Yost said. "We hadn't played better than .500 baseball in 15 years. And then all of a sudden, we're expected to win a championship -- with a young club that didn't play defense very well, that struck out a lot, that didn't have a lot of power and had pitching that wasn't great. I mean, it was OK, but it wasn't great. And that's tough.

"But now, we've gone through that. And watching them go through that last year and fight through that and learn what that's about -- that was huge in terms of experience."

In fact, the manager says even he is different now. He said he learned last year that he "can't control everything."

"Last year," Yost said, "I'd come in the dugout saying, 'We've got to get a base runner here. So if they do this, then we do that' … and you just end up getting frustrated. Or I'd say, 'We've gotta get this guy out here.' But it just doesn't work like that. So I'm not trying to control the damage anymore. Just watching the game and reacting to the game is a lot easier than trying to control things you've got no control over."

Not that doing it this new way is exactly a day in Aruba, either, you understand. You know what time Yost got to the ballpark Thursday? How about 10:30 a.m. -- for a 7 p.m. game. And why was that? "I couldn't not be here," he said.

Which means he's already back at the ballpark as you're reading this. Breathing in. Breathing out. And trying his hardest not to look at a standings column that is offering his troops less comfort by the day.

Old Timers Day

Let's try to put in perspective what Jamie Moyer did Thursday:

[+] EnlargeJamie Moyer
AP Photo/H. Rumph, Jr.Left-hander Jamie Moyer is 6-1 with a 3.20 ERA in his last 11 starts.
He won a game on three days' rest for the first time since April 7, 1996. And he became the second 45-year-old pitcher in history to win a game on three days' rest -- the first since Jack Quinn did it 79 years ago.

Moyer also won his 14th game of the year -- the most ever by a non-knuckleballer that age. And he now leads the Phillies in wins -- meaning he could join Phil Niekro ('84 Yankees) and Satchel Paige ('52 Browns) as the only 45-year-olds to lead their teams in victories.

And that's not all. Moyer passed Juan Marichal on the all-time wins list, with 244. ("Some people think I played with him, but I didn't," Moyer said, chuckling.) And, most importantly, he now has won three straight starts -- against the Cubs, Mets and Brewers -- for a team that would be history if he hadn't.

So it's been a remarkable, historic year -- "But it will be more gratifying if we win and somehow get to the playoffs," Moyer said. "Ultimately, that's why I'm standing here tonight. That's why I come here and put a uniform on every day. My goal is for this team, this organization and this city to have a team in the playoffs and then to see where that will take us. I try not to put personal things or accomplishments in front of that. That's very selfish. To me, this game is not about me."

Well, these past few paragraphs were about him, whether he liked it or not. Asked if he expected to be leading his team in anything at age 45, Moyer's teammate Scott Eyre said, "If I'm even alive at 45, I'll be happy."

Pennant pulsations

Rich Harden

Harden

• Apparently, rumors of Rich Harden's dire condition were slightly exaggerated. In his first start for the Cubs in 13 days, Harden spun a six-inning two-hitter against the Cardinals on Thursday. It was the sixth time in Harden's 10 starts as a Cub that he allowed either one or two hits. He leads the National League in starts like that -- even though he's been in the National League for only two months.

The only other Cub in the past 50 years with six starts that unhittable in a season: Kerry Wood in 2001.

• If the Astros make the playoffs, they will make last year's Rockies look like this year's Angels. The Stros were 12½ games out of a playoff spot on July 27. If they make it, they will be only the third team in history to be that far out that late in the year and still make the postseason. The others: the 1995 Mariners (12½ back on Aug. 20) and the 1951 Giants (13 out on Aug. 11). Since July 27, the Astros are 17-1 in games started by Roy Oswalt and Randy Wolf. Speaking of Oswalt, who shut out the Pirates on Thursday, ESPN research guru Mark Simon reports (via the Elias Sports Bureau) that Oswalt now has the highest September/October winning percentage in modern history -- .788 (26-7).

GAMES TO WATCH
• Milwaukee at Philadelphia, 7:05 ET | Talk about it
• St. Louis at Pittsburgh, 7:05 ET | Talk about it
• Tampa Bay at N.Y. Yankees, 7:05 ET | Talk about it
• Minnesota at Baltimore, 7:05 ET | Talk about it
• Toronto at Boston, 7:05 ET | Talk about it
• Atlanta at N.Y. Mets, 7:10 ET | Talk about it
• Detroit at Chicago White Sox, 8:11 ET | Talk about it
• L.A. Dodgers at Colorado, 9:05 ET | Talk about it
• Cincinnati at Arizona, 9:40 ET | Talk about it
For more on today's big games, see the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse.
• The Twins had a chance to pull even with the banged-up White Sox on Thursday but lost another crushing late-inning game, to the Royals. Since Aug. 23, the Twins' bullpen is 0-7, with five blown saves.

Jamie Moyer came up with this tidbit himself after Prince Fielder ended a four-week homer drought against him: Moyer now has allowed homers to the father-son tag team of Prince and his dad, Cecil.

Carlos Ruiz's eighth-inning squeeze bunt was the second of the Charlie Manuel era in Philadelphia. The other was May 12, 2007 -- by Carlos Ruiz. So where'd the manager get that idea? "I heard Ruiz, when he came up the [dugout] steps … ask somebody, 'What's the squeeze sign?'" Manuel said. "That kind of told me he wants to squeeze."

ALT HERE

Hart

• Most mind-boggling quote of the night: The Brewers' Corey Hart said it was great to escape the boo-birds in Milwaukee and get to a more serene place -- ehhhhh, Philadelphia? "Actually, it felt more like a home game than playing in Miller Park," Hart said. "We didn't hear the boos that we sometimes hear at home. … A guy makes an error, a guy strikes out, and you hear your hometown booing you. It makes you ready to get out of there and go somewhere else for a while. I think we're all looser here." Now that's an all-time first, a team heading for Philadelphia to escape the boos.

Get out your schedules

Big pitching matchups for Friday night: Tim Wakefield (1 2/3 innings pitched, seven earned runs in his last start) versus David Purcey in Boston (where Toronto will start A.J. Burnett, Jesse Litsch and Roy Halladay on three days' rest this weekend). … Matt Garza (0.64 ERA in his 11 wins, 6.43 ERA in his 16 non-wins) versus Sidney Ponson in the beginning of the last homestand at Yankee Stadium. … Cole Hamels (0-1, 6.43 ERA against the Brewers last year) versus Manny Parra (1-5 since July 20) in Philadelphia. … John Danks (1-4 in his past six starts) versus Justin Verlander on the South Side of Chicago. … Brandon Webb (0-3, 12.51 ERA in his past three starts) versus Johnny Cueto in Arizona. … Chad Billingsley (11 straight starts allowing three runs or fewer) versus Jeff Francis at Coors.

And don't forget the Cubs and the Astros versus Ike in Houston. Those teams won't be playing that game, of course, thanks to Hurricane Ike. So in case you were wondering: Last win by an Ike in the big leagues: July 5, 1963 -- Ike Delock, for the Orioles versus the Twins, courtesy of a four-run first inning kicked off by Orioles leadoff dynamo Luis Aparicio.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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