CINCINNATI -- A half-dozen Milwaukee Brewer players sat in padded folding chairs in front of their lockers, staring at a spot on the clubhouse carpet and a future that's getting bleaker by the day.
Not even prized acquisition CC Sabathia could keep them in the running for the NL Central title. And now, the wild-card race is looking pretty grim, too.
Pitcher Micah Owings had a pinch-hit single off Sabathia with the bases loaded in the sixth inning -- another blow-to-the-gut moment in Milwaukee's maddening month -- and the Cincinnati Reds held on for a 4-3 victory Saturday that deepened the Brewers' angst.
"When it rains, it pours, and we've been getting kind of a raw deal on everything now," Sabathia said.
Milwaukee's Mike Cameron was batting in the top of the seventh when the Chicago Cubs completed a 5-4 win over St. Louis at Wrigley Field, wrapping up their second straight NL Central title. All that's left for the Brewers is a long-shot try for the wild card that seemed to be in their back pocket when September began.
They've lost 15 of 19 in the month, blowing a 5½-game lead in the wild-card race. Milwaukee is 2½ games behind the New York Mets for the playoff spot and has seven games left on its schedule.
"It's definitely an uphill battle now," said interim manager Dale Sveum, who took over for Ned Yost earlier in the week. "It's getting to that point where realistically you've got to win every game almost."
They can barely win one these days. The latest loss fit the profile of their month.
A fielding error enabled Cincinnati's comeback, a pitcher drove in the go-ahead run, and Brewers reliever Eric Gagne tripped and fell on the mound while throwing a pitch as the game wound down. In one final tease, the Brewers left the bases loaded in the ninth when their hottest hitter struck out.
What else could go wrong?
Sabathia (9-2) took the mound a day ahead of schedule, only the second time in his career that he's gone on short rest, to try to stop the slide. He took a 2-1 lead into the sixth, when first baseman Prince Fielder bobbled Corey Patterson's sacrifice bunt for an error that loaded the bases with none out. The ball stuck in Fielder's mitt as he tried to throw to first.
"I panicked, too, because he was flying," Fielder said. "I just messed it up."
Sabathia got the next two batters, and manager Dusty Baker decided to send up Owings for his second pinch-hit appearance since arriving from Arizona to complete the Adam Dunn trade. Owings' inside-out swing sent a single over Fielder's head for a 3-2 lead.
"I'd never faced him before. I tried to put something out there, and I got the hit," said Owings, now 5-for-16 as a pinch-hitter this season. "I was fortunate enough to get a little piece of it and sneak it over Prince's head."
In the Brewers' dugout, there was disbelief.
"That's when you know things are going bad," Sveum said.
Struggling rookie Adam Rosales followed with a pinch-hit single for another run, ending Sabathia's outing. The Brewers got Sabathia from Cleveland to help them keep up with the Cubs. His only losses for the Brewers came in his last two starts, contributing to their collapse.
Rookie Johnny Cueto (9-13) got his first victory in three starts since returning from a sore elbow. Francisco Cordero gave up a solo homer to Rickie Weeks in the ninth while improving to 32-of-38 in save chances.
The Reds hit so many home runs off Milwaukee's shellshocked pitching staff in the series opener -- seven in all -- that they exhausted their supply of celebratory fireworks. Their supplier couldn't make more because of damage from the remnant of Hurricane Ike, which blew threw last weekend.
So, there were no overhead fireworks when Cordero fanned Fielder -- who has an 11-game hitting streak -- with the bases loaded to finish it off, sending the Brewers to the clubhouse for more soul-searching.
"If you look too much at it, you'll never get out of it," Fielder said.
2B Ray Durham was out of the lineup with a strained right hamstring, aggravated while he stole a base on Friday night. He's likely to miss Sunday's game as well. ... Reds rookie OF Jay Bruce was hit on the right hand by a pitch in the fourth. X-rays were negative. ... Owings is 2-for-2 as a pinch-hitter with the Reds. He also had an RBI double.