CINCINNATI -- Sunday's contest counts as just one in the standings, but for the Brewers, it was a swing game that was either going to make or break their road trip.
Unfortunately for the Brewers, this one was about the breaks -- or lack thereof. They lost in 10 innings to the Reds by a score of 4-3, ending a seven-game road trip before 32,953 at Great American Ball Park with a record of 3-4.
The defeat gave the Brewers their first road series loss of the year as they dropped three of four to the Reds. That's not bad considering the season is already five weeks old and Milwaukee is still clinging onto the distinction of having the best record in baseball.
But to lose two straight to the Reds after starting the road trip taking by two of three in St. Louis? That kind of stings.
"This would have been an important game to win," manager Ron Roenicke said. "You lose this one and now it's a bad road trip. You win it and it's a good road trip. You wouldn't think one game would do that, but it does."
For most of the game, the Brewers looked to be uncomfortably in control, clinging to a 3-2 lead after a gutty performance by starting right-hander Kyle Lohse. But things deteriorated in the eighth when Brandon Phillips connected for a solo homer off Brandon Kintzler, tying the game at 3. Todd Frazier ended the game in the 10th, doubling off Tyler Thornburg to score Chris Heisey from first.
Heisey drew a two-out walk and beat the throw home by at least two steps, thanks to Frazier's perfectly-placed double down the left-field line.
"I had to throw a strike, had to come to him," Thornburg said. "It's just unfortunate that you walk one guy and give up a hit and the guy scores from first. Not much I can do about it."
Prior to that, the game looked like a perfect setup for Lohse to further pad his impressive numbers at Great American Ball Park. The right-hander, who has spent the majority of his career in the National League Central, has pitched 23 games (22 starts) in Cincinnati and, after allowing two runs over 6 1/3 innings to the Reds Sunday, lowered his ERA there to 3.50.
But this one wasn't easy. Lohse credited Reds hitters for not allowing him to get into a rhythm.
"It was kind of a weird outing for me," he said. "They did a good job of mixing up their approach. They were super-aggressive early, so I tried to use that. Then they take -- they made me work. It was just a battle. There were several times where I got locked in a count and I just felt more comfortable with sliders, so I just kept throwing them."
Lohse left the game with one out in the seventh, turning it over to a bullpen that, for a while, capably preserved the Brewers' one-run lead. Lefty reliever Will Smith followed Lohse to face lefty pinch-hitter Jay Bruce, who swung and missed on three pitches. Skip Schumaker then took a pitch for strike one before flying out to left, ending the second big Reds threat in two innings.
But Phillips gave the Reds a late-game boost with the homer off Kintzler, which brought up the question: Why didn't Roenicke just stick with Smith?
"Smith had done his job and you don't want to go too far with him," Roenicke said. "It was set up the right way. We didn't execute. They did a nice job. When they needed to get big hits, they got big hits."
The Brewers, conversely, did not. Until their offense -- scuffling of late, with slumps plaguing all parts of the lineup -- starts humming again, Roenicke is likely to hear the same questions about possible tweaking. Sunday's game didn't help curb that line of questioning, given Brewers hitters, from the fifth inning to the 10th, went down quietly. They managed just two baserunners, both on walks, both of whom were erased via double plays.
"We've got to do a better job of battling," Roenicke said. "If it makes sense to shuffle, we shuffle. But I just don't see where there's pieces to change that. We have to do a better job. We get opportunities and we're not getting the job done right now."
That cost the Brewers a couple of close games this series. They return to Milwaukee having dropped four of their last five.
"We were kind of hoping for a little more here," Thornburg said. "But at the same time when we were in St. Louis and we had a bunch of guys down, a tough situation and to take two out of three was absolutely huge. Coming in here, there were close games, and they just found a way to get a big hit. That's what good teams do."