Brewers centerfielder Lorenzo Cain walks off the field as members of the Washington Nationals celebrate their comeback victory in the NL wild-card game. (Photo: Patrick Semansky, AP)
WASHINGTON — A nightmare eighth inning for the Milwaukee Brewers allowed the Washington Nationals to rally from a two-run deficit and steal a 4-3 victory in the National League wild-card game Tuesday night, ending the Brewers’ season in heartbreak.
Juan Soto’s two-out single off Josh Hader cleared the bases when the ball squirted past rightfielder Trent Grisham all the way to the wall, turning the Nationals’ 3-1 deficit into their first lead of the game.
Hader struck out Victor Robles to open the frame, hit Michael A. Taylor with a pitch and got a second strikeout of Trea Turner before pinch-hitter Ryan Zimmerman’s broken-bat single and a walk to Anthony Rendon. Soto then lined a ball to right, and Grisham whiffed.
The Brewers challenged that the ball hit the knob of the bat for a foul ball instead of a hit-by-pitch on Taylor. The Brewers lost the challenge, even though replays showed it to be a close call as to whether the bat or hand was struck first.
BOX SCORE: Nationals 4, Brewers 3
The Brewers had been clinging to a lead from the first inning on, when Yasmani Grandal hit a two-run homer off three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer to spot Milwaukee a 2-0 lead. Eric Thames homered in the second, giving the Brewers a 3-0 edge before Turner got one back in the third with a home run off starter Brandon Woodruff.
Woodruff turned in four solid innings, and Milwaukee’s relief-heavy formula did its job for a time thereafter. Brent Suter worked out of a jam in the fifth, Drew Pomeranz retired all six men he faced in the sixth and seventh, and Hader entered the game in the eighth.
Washington advanced to face the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series, looking for its first playoff-series win in five tries since 2012. The Brewers were left pondering a heartbreaking loss as they watched their season end.
It took only seven pitches for the Brewers to get to Scherzer when Grisham drew a leadoff walk on a close pitch, and Grandal parked the first pitch he saw over the wall in right field. Thames took Scherzer out to center one inning later.
Woodruff, who has worked only a pair of two-inning stints in September as he returns from an oblique injury, was given a longer leash this time and threw 52 pitches.
Milwaukee did little else either against Scherzer or co-ace Stephen Strasburg, who checked into the game as anticipated in the sixth and delivered three scoreless innings.
Washington posted the worst bullpen ERA in baseball (5.66) during the regular season, but Nats manager Dave Martinez made it pretty clear that he would ride with his starters in the win-or-go-home format. Daniel Hudson did check in for the ninth and secured the save.
Not the beard: The Brewers were the hot pick among superstitious fans on social media before the game thanks to a quirky reason: Martinez admitted he accidentally shaved his playoff beard before Tuesday’s game.
“No, I screwed up,” Martinez said with a laugh. “The guard on my clipper was off on one side, and I just went, ‘Oh, no.’ I had to lower it a little bit. Let’s see what happens today.”
Big decision: Brewers manager Craig Counsell elected not to double-switch when he brought Pomeranz into the game in the sixth, even with leftfielder Ryan Braun battling a calf issue. Pomeranz had to bat for himself in the bottom half and struck out so he could go back out for the seventh frame. It paid off when Pomeranz worked a second 1-2-3 inning.
Sirens blaring: Things got weird in the fourth inning when a fire alarm went of in the stadium, and simultaneously, the stadium also appeared to lose access to its sound system. The Nationals eventually released a notice that it was a false alarm, and after two Nationals batted without walk-up music or an introduction, the sound system returned.
Feeling pretty Grand: Grandal entered the game just 1 for 13 against Scherzer in his career, but he looked plenty comfortable Tuesday, also drawing a walk and hitting a long fly ball that just missed a second home run.