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The Milwaukee Brewers' playoff aspirations suffered a devastating blow on Thursday. At least the ending was fitting, however.
Benoit not up to snuff
The Brew Crew held a 1-0 lead when John Axford came on to begin the bottom of the ninth and blow away the first two Cincinnati Reds he faced - Zack Cozart and Joey Votto - with fastballs. He couldn't squeeze one by a third hitter, Todd Frazier, though; the slumping corner infielder deposited an Axford heater in the outfield seats to tie the score.
Jay Bruce singled on the next pitch Axford threw, setting the stage for the unlikeliest of outcomes for the final batter of the game: A Dioner Navarro triple to walk 'em off. With six games to play, Milwaukee is four games back of the second wild-card spot.
It's the Ax's ninth BS of the season. To his credit, he'd converted 15 consecutive opportunities before it, an encouraging streak given his struggles for most of the year. In that stretch, he posted a 3.06 ERA, but three of those saves were of the one-out variety, it's worth noting.
He'll probably continue to appear in these situations to close out the year. His organization still can't be sure that it has its guy, though. Axford's part in an effort to show fans some appreciation isn't exactly enough to cement his role in 2013.
With Frank Francisco (elbow tendonitis) unlikely to pitch again this season, Jon Rauch was in the New York Mets' driver's seat for save chances. He stood up and walked away by putting R.A. Dickey's bid for a 20th victory in peril on Thursday against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Rauch relieved Dickey in the top of the eighth and retired Rod Barajas to end the Bucs' half of the frame. In the ninth, though, he opened by issuing a free pass, striking out a batter and then serving up a two-run ding dong to Alex Presley.
Terry Collins had seen enough. He summoned Bobby Parnell from the bullpen, and the right-hander induced a ground-out and a fly-out to end the contest to record his fifth save of 2012.
It was a little surprising that Rauch began as the favorite in the post-Francisco primary. Parnell had performed fairly well in a previous race and has continued to pitch well. Rauch had been quite effective since the break, but his latest fumble has probably given Parnell back the chair.
No one backs Dickey's 20th W into a corner.
In a game the Detroit Tigers would've hated to see slip away on Thursday, they led 4-3 entering the ninth inning, with the Kansas City Royals coming to bat. Jim Leyland called upon Joaquin Benoit, somewhat surprisingly, and not Jose Valverde, to protect that lead.
Should've been Parnell
There's no reason to think that Valverde wasn't available; he'd pitched an inning on Wednesday that required only 12 pitches, and he didn't appear in a game the day before. There's no literature asserting that he was unavailable because of an injury or why Leyland made the choice.
It may be moot. Benoit surrendered a game-tying bomb to Billy Butler, the leadoff man of the inning. The right-hander escaped without letting another man reach base, but he'd blown the save chance. Fortunately for Motown, the Tigers pushed across a run in the bottom of the frame to gain a W, which was credited to Benoit.
Still, we have no explanation, only speculation. Valverde hasn't been outstanding this season, and September has been a little rough, but he hadn't given up a run in his last two appearances. Benoit has given up a handful of runs himself this month. Valverde's stuff just isn't that good any more. Leyland defended his usage of his closer in a sitch with the game on the line earlier this month.
Perhaps, in what would be a peculiar move, Leyland wanted to see if Benoit was up to the task since Detroit is highly unlikely to re-sign Valverde this winter. Strange, regardless. Something to keep an eye as the postseason approaches, especially since it appears that Detroit will get in.
Other Thursday saviors
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.