By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — It figured that if anybody could stop the runaway beer truck that is the Milwaukee Brewers, it would be Cincinnati Reds pitcher Sonny Gray.
It didn’t happen. Go figure. The Brew Crew stuck another close loss on the Reds, 4-2, Tuesday night in Great American Ball Park.
The Reds are 11-18 in two-run games. Milwaukee is 23-12. Mix in Cincinnati’s one-run record of 24-32 and Milwaukee’s 27-16. What you get is Milwaukee at 50-28 and Cincinnati at 35-50.
Any question as to the difference between a semi-mediocre team and a very good team?
The Brewers came to town with 15 wins in their last 17 games, a four-game winning streak, and a light grip on a National League wild card spot.
Gray, though, is one of the league’s best pitchers and was 5-and-0 with a 1.78 earned run average for his career against the Brewers.
But after giving up three runs and three hits over five innings, and throwing only 79 pitches, Gray was taken down in the bottom of the fifth for a pinch-hitter.
Gray was tagged with a loss, dipping his record to 11-and-8 and probably pushing him out of Cy Young Award consideration.
It was his last start of the season. His turn comes up again Sunday in the season finale in Pittsburgh, but manager David Bell decided to shut him down and use Sunday as a bullpen day to check out some other pitchers.
“Gray deserves a ton of credit for the year he’s had,” said Bell. “He has stepped up for us and been one of the best pitchers in the game. We knew we were getting a good pitcher, but for him to be truly one of the best in the game is something we’re fortunate to have and to have him for the next couple of years.”
While Gray lost eight games, most through not fault of his own, he never gave up more than four runs in a game over his 31 starts. And he has gone 33 straight games of giving up six or fewer hits.”
All this came after he struggled in New York last season, posting a 4.90 earned run average for the Yankees as opposed to 2.87 this season.
“The one thing for me this year was having fun and enjoying the game again,” he said. “It was getting exciting for your turn, getting excited for the day I pitched and truly looking forward to it.
“Just getting back to being myself and competing makes it a fun game,” Gray added. “Giving up no more than four runs a game just shows consistency.
“There are some things I want to do better,” he added. “Clearly I want to be able to get deeper into games. There are a lot of external things that go into that. I put in the work and I definitely got better this year as the season went on. It is a direct reflection on D.J. (pitching coach Derek Johnson) and Caleb (assistant pitching coach Caleb Cotham). Going through this year I think I kind of re-invented myself just a little bit.”
The Reds, so adept at scoring runs in the first inning, scored two off Milwaukee starter Adrian Houser.
Joey Votto doubled and with two outs Aristides Aquino blooped a broken-bat double to left center to score Votto. Aquino scored on Tucker Barnhart’s single for a quick 2-0 lead.
And as so often happens, the Reds’ offense went into sputter mode after the first.
Gray struck out the first batter of the game, Trent Grisham, Gray’s 200th strikeout this season.
“That meant a lot because of where I was last year, from where I’ve been, to where I am now,” he said. “It’s a good feeling. I know we lost and I hate to lose.
“But looking back, it was quite the ride for me,” he added. “I’m overwhelmed with emotions and it was a fun ride for me.”
Ryan Braun dropped his 21st home run of the season onto the grassy knoll beyond the center field wall in the second, cutting Cincinnati’s lead to 2-1.
The Brewer grabbed the lead in the third, 3-2, with two runs. The rally began when Gray gave up a leadoff single to No. 8 hitter Orlando Arcia, batting .216.
Pitcher Houser bunted Arcia to second and Gray walked Trent Grisham. Former Reds No. 1 draft pick Yasmani Grandal doubled home Arcia to tie it and Keston Hiura’s sacrifice fly to right put the Brewers in front, 3-2.
The Reds threatened in both the sixth and the seventh against Milwaukee relief pitcher Brent Suter, a Cincinnati Moeller graduate and a Harvard University graduate.
But they came up as empty as a lemonade glass on the Fourth of July.
They had two on with no outs in the sixth, but Aristides Aquino hit into a double play and Tucker Barnhart struck out.
They had two on with one out in the seventh, but Kyle Farmer popped out and Phillip Ervin lined out to center.
The Brewers added a big run in the ninth, an unearned run against Matt Bowman. He walked Eric Thames to open the inning. He came around to score on a single by Lorenzo Cain and a bunt single/throwing error laid down by Orlando Arcia.
It is no stun-gun shock that the Brewers’ bullpen put the clamp on the Reds for no runs over the last five innings.
Over the last 18 games, the Brewers bullpen is 12-0 with 10 saves.
Suter, the second pitcher of the game for the Brewers, got the win and Josh Hader, the fourth Milwaukee pitcher, got the save.
Hader, though, put a scare into Brewers fans. With two outs he gave up a single to pinch-hitter Christian Colon and a double to Jose Peraza.
That put the potential tying run on second and the potential winning run at the plate in the personage of Kyle Farmer.
Potential was as far as it got, though. Farmer struck out on a half-swing to end it, Hader’s 36th save.