ARLINGTON, Texas -- In a season of injuries, uninspired play and scandal, the Milwaukee Brewers always have had the bullpen as their shelter from the storm.
Baseball's worst last season, the pen has risen to fourth-best this year as an occasional buffer to everything else that has gone wrong.
But at the end of a nine-game trip Wednesday night, it went the way of everything else in 2013.
With three consecutive walked batters to begin the bottom of the seventh inning, the first two by Michael Gonzalez, the bullpen allowed them all to score in a 5-4 loss to the Texas Rangers that was delayed 37 minutes by rain at the start.
Not that it completely dampened the entire excursion. The Brewers went 5-4 on a trip that included some of their best baseball of late, particularly from their starting pitching.
But because of the rare bullpen meltdown, it just didn't happen when it counted against one of the game's hottest teams.
Of Gonzalez, who has not pitched well lately, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said, "It's command. For whatever reason, he's not throwing the ball where he wants it."
The loss overshadowed a successful outing by Tyler Thornburg, who was 0-9 in the minors but has done enough in three starts to make himself part of the conversation in the rotation. Yovani Gallardo will come off the disabled list to start Saturday, and the Brewers aren't going to keep six, but Thornburg hasn't hurt his cause.
In six innings, Thornburg gave up just one unearned run. It was when he left the game that the misadventures began. After another walk by losing pitcher John Axford, Burke Badenhop gave up the winning runs via a two-run single from Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler.
"I thought he threw the ball well," Roenicke said of Thornburg. "He did a good job against some really good hitters."
But for a rare occasion, the bullpen was on the wrong end of the story.
"They've been doing a good job. When they don't it's surprising," said Roenicke, who kept the clubhouse closed for an extended period after the game to speak with one of the players
The loss also overshadowed two home runs by first baseman Juan Francisco, who drove in all four of the Brewers' runs with the long ball. Francisco went deep in the second and hit a three-run homer in the fourth.
Before Francisco homered, Aramis Ramirez was hit by a pitch and Carlos Gomez doubled.
In the third, Rangers No. 9 hitter David Murphy reached on an error by Scooter Gennett, went to second on a balk by Thornburg, took third on a fly ball and scored on Elvis Andrus' single through a drawn-in infield.
Francisco tied the game in the second inning with his 16th home run of the year.
The Rangers took the lead in the first when Adrian Beltre singled home Kinsler, who had doubled.
The Brewers, who have played 16 of their last 19 games on the road, will return home Thursday to begin a four-game series against the Cincinnati Reds. The seven-game home stand against the National League Central will continue with three games against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Both teams are competing for the division title and the Brewers' best hope at this point in the season is to play spoiler.
(c)2013 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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