For seven innings Tuesday, the Brewers’ bullpen game was working to near perfection.
Then, the eighth inning arrived.
Brewers closer Josh Hader couldn’t find the strike zone and the Nationals scored three runs to beat Milwaukee 4-3 in the National League wild card game at frenzied Nats Park.
With one out, Hader hit pinch-hitter Michael A. Taylor with a pitch. Then pinch-hitter Ryan Zimmerman hit a broken-bat single to center, with Taylor going to third. Anthony Rendon walked to load the bases, and Juan Soto ripped a single to right field that rolled past the Brewers’ rookie right-fielder, Trent Grisham, for an error.
Taylor, Zimmerman and Rendon all scored. Now the Nationals will go to Los Angeles to play the Dodgers on Thursday night in Game 1 of their NL Division Series.
Afterward, the Brewers clubhouse was quiet as players walked around the room giving each other hugs. Grisham, who was playing the outfield in place of injured Christian Yelich, was sitting and staring into his locker, listening to a hunched-over Mike Moustakas trying to comfort him.
“Trent and Josh have to realize that we wouldn’t have been here tonight without them,” Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun said. “It happens. It shows the importance of needing to win your division.”
On Soto’s single, Grisham thought he was going to scoop up the ball, hit the cutoff man and possibly have a play at the plate. He said he was off-balance, moved too quickly and the ball took a funny hop.
Even though teammates were offering him encouragement, he was hurting. He said the error is going to hurt for a bit.
“It hurts,” Grisham said. “It’s going to sting. I expect it’s going to hurt for a while. This isn’t how I wanted my first playoff game to go.”
Hader, who gave up a key ninth-inning home run in Colorado that cost the Brewers a chance to win the NL Central against St. Louis, said he felt fine coming out of the bullpen for the eighth inning, but that didn’t translate to the mound.
“I just didn’t have the location on my pitches,” Hader said. “I just wasn’t in the zone. I was not getting ahead early and that’s important to execute.”
Of Taylor’s hit-by-pitch, Hader said: “I think it got the hand and the bat.”
Of Zimmerman’s single: “He was able to poke it out.”
Hader wasn’t sure of Soto’s base hit. He didn’t see the replay. “I assume it was out over the plate,” he said.
The Brewers had the game under control thanks to their opener strategy. Brandon Woodruff, after spending seven weeks on the disabled list with an oblique injury and pitching only four innings in September, worked the first four innings.
He was followed by Brent Suter, who came back from Tommy John surgery on Sept. 1. Then it was Drew Pomeranz, who had a 5.68 ERA for the Giants in 20 appearances (17 starts) before he was traded to Milwaukee in July and flourished in a relief role.
That was little consolation to the Brewers as they packed up their gear for the final time.
“It’s hard to believe our postseason is over,” Braun said. “It’s shocking.”
Yelich said the Brewers will learn and grow from the tough loss, but still, it wasn’t easy.
“It’s tough to swallow,” Yelich said. “Guess we will see you all in Maryvale (Ariz.) for spring training.”