NEW YORK -- Right-hander Marco Estrada stated his case one last time Sunday afternoon in an attempt to convince the Milwaukee Brewers' brain trust that he belongs in the starting rotation in 2014.
Estrada put an exclamation point on a strong personal finish, allowing just two hits and one run over seven innings, with no walks and eight strikeouts in the season finale against the New York Mets at Citi Field.
Estrada was not rewarded with a victory, however. The Brewers gift-wrapped two unearned runs in the eighth inning with three defensive mistakes, allowing the Mets to make off with a 3-2 victory and salvage the last of a four-game series.
"That's not the way you want to end the season," said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, whose club finished an otherwise strong last month with a stinker. "We gave it away. Every single run we gave away."
The outcome certainly wasn't Estrada's fault. In nine starts after returning from a nearly two-month stint on the disabled list with a strained hamstring, he went 3-0 with a 2.15 earned run average. Overall, he was 7-4 with a 3.87 ERA in 21 starts.
"I needed it," said Estrada, an arbitration-eligible player this winter. "Obviously, the first half wasn't the greatest (4-4, 5.32 ERA in 12 starts). I thought I threw some good games, but I had some really bad ones.
"To come back and stay healthy and finish strong means the world. I hope I showed them enough. I'm glad I ended strong and gave them something to think about."
The Brewers have Kyle Lohse, Yovani Gallardo and Wily Peralta penciled in for the first three spots in their starting rotation next season. Estrada possibly could make that a foursome with his strong kick to the finish line.
"Marco has pitched in the second half the way we thought he would all year," said Roenicke. "We'll see if he can maintain that through a season. We'll certainly go into spring training with the thought that he can do it.
"That was a great way for him to finish the season. He gets strikeouts with the fastball, he gets strikeouts with the breaking ball, he gets strikeouts with the changeup. When he's on like that, he can really go through lineups."
Estrada wasn't alone among starting pitchers putting things together at the end albeit too late to overcome horrible outings in the early stages of the season. Starters compiled a 2.93 ERA in September, third-best in the National League.
"All of them finished strong, which is very encouraging going into next year," said Roenicke. "They should have a good feeling coming into spring training when you know you finish that well."
The Brewers' better play down the stretch did not atone for the miserable first half in which they quickly fell out of the NL Central race. But, considering the avalanche of injuries and suspension to Ryan Braun, they went home with hopes of better things next season after a 74-88 finish.
"We're not that far away," said third baseman Aramis Ramirez, whose season was marred by ongoing knee issues. "We've got some good pieces. We've got some positions we have to fill. That's up to the front office to do.
"We're in a tough division with St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. They're really good, and they're going to be good next year again. So, we've got to make sure we upgrade and hopefully stay healthy."
Centerfielder Carlos Gomez expressed a similar sentiment, saying, "We had one month that killed us (a 6-22 May). If we could have won 10 or 15 games then, it would have been different.
"If we have everybody together for next year, we know we can compete and be one of the best. We know we're going to have a good offense when we are together. It's going to be a solid lineup. There's going to be like five guys with 20-plus home runs. It's hard to find a team with power and speed like that."
The speed of leadoff hitter Eric Young Jr. allowed the Mets to break on top in the first inning. Young blooped a single to center, stole second and third base, then scored on a shallow sacrifice fly to right by David Wright when Norichika Aoki did not get off a quick throw.
The Brewers took the lead with two runs in the fifth, an inning in which they collected five hits and a walk, had two runners thrown out at the plate and needed a blown call to get on the board. Jeff Bianchi, Jonathan Lucroy and Gomez opened with singles, but Bianchi was thrown out trying to score on Gomez's hit.
After Yuniesky Betancourt walked to load the bases, Sean Halton bounced into what should have been an inning-ending double play. But umpire CB Bucknor blew the call at first base, allowing Lucroy to score the tying run, a horrible mistake that drew considerable fire from New York manager Terry Collins.
The Mets became even angrier when Logan Schafer followed with an infield hit to score Gomez with the go-ahead run. Scooter Gennett singled for the fifth hit of the inning, but Halton was thrown out trying to score from second and the Brewers settled for the 2-1 lead.
The Brewers literally gave the game away with miscues in the eighth, beginning with a high throw by Bianchi on a routine grounder by Juan Lagares. On a bunt by Juan Centeno, Gennett was late covering first base and Lucroy threw past him for an error as Lagares scored the tying run.
Wilfredo Tovar followed with another bunt and Halton tried to nab the runner at third, throwing late to leave runners on the corners. Josh Satin flied out to shallow right, but the go-ahead run scored on Young's tapper back to reliever Brandon Kintzler.
"We played pretty good baseball, until today, for the last month," said Roenicke, whose club won 12 of its last 17 games. "It was a good finish. After the all-star break, I thought we did a nice job. I thought we hung in there with almost all the teams. We played everybody tough."
(c)2013 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Visit the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at www.jsonline.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services