Friday, October 14, 2011 Updated: October 15, 5:05 PM ET
Brewers kick away Game 5
By Wayne Drehs ESPN.com
ST. LOUIS -- Not until the game was over. Not until he and his Milwaukee teammates had left the field and were back in the clubhouse after a disappointing 7-1 NLCS loss to St. Louis did Jerry Hairston have an explanation.
Before then, he had no clue. He couldn't tell you how a sharply hit ground ball off the bat of Cardinals pitcher Jaime Garcia in the second inning had rolled through his legs. He had no idea how the gaffe had allowed two runs to score and would lead the way to an unsightly four-error night for Milwaukee.
It didn't make sense. Hairston had done everything the son of a 14-year major league veteran had been taught. Bend the knees. Get the glove down. Watch the ball. But the only thing he saw was the ball rolling into left field and two Cardinals coming around to score.
Jerry Hairston couldn't help but be frustrated after watching a ball go between his legs.
"Five hole," Hairston would say after the game, a nod to the most embarrassing spot an NHL goalie can be exposed.
Hairston didn't see the ball. Maybe it was the white St. Louis rally towels. Maybe it was the white Cardinals jerseys. It all happened so fast. So the moment he was in the clubhouse, Hairston grabbed a computer, queued up the play and tried to figure out what went wrong. Afterward, he felt a heck of a lot better. Sort of. How did he miss the ground ball that gave St. Louis a 3-0 lead and set the tone for Game 5? As the sharply hit grounder rolled his way, it hit the lip where the infield grass meets the dirt and rolled underneath his glove.
An inch further in the dirt and he has it. An inch further in the grass and he has it. But on that exact spot? Bad news.
"Ninety-nine percent of the time, it comes up and I make the play," Hairston said. "But when it hit the lip, that was it. There was nothing I could have done different. It's just one of those things where sometimes at the hot corner, you're at the mercy when a guy hits a bullet. He smoked it. Once it hit the lip, it stayed down. There's nothing I could have done."
Which would have been fine had it been the only Milwaukee error Friday night. A bad bounce, an unlucky break and the Cardinals score two runs. Fine. But unfortunately for the Brewers, it was just the beginning.
All season the baseball gurus have questioned whether Milwaukee's sometimes-suspect defense would cost the team a game in the postseason. On Friday night, the answer was yes.
Oh sure, the Brewers were a not-so-good 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position. Yes, even MVP candidate Ryan Braun ended a pair of innings with the aforementioned men eager to score, by popping out in the third and striking out in the fifth.
But this game was about Milwaukee's gloves. Or the lack thereof.
"No errors and it's a different ballgame," catcher Jonathan Lucroy said.
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Lucroy was on the receiving end of a bizarre start by Brewers righty Zack Greinke, who led the league in strikeouts per nine innings this season but failed to whiff a single St. Louis batter in 5 2/3 innings Friday. In fact, on only two of Greinke's 89 pitches did a Cardinals batter swing and miss.
"They were coming out hacking," Lucroy said. "A couple of times, he would get two strikes and they put the ball in play. They just kept fighting to put the ball in play."
And when they did, the Brewers didn't always catch it. In the second inning, it was Hairston, which led to a pair of Cardinals runs.
In the fifth, it was Rickie Weeks, on the left side of the infield with Albert Pujols at bat, awkwardly fielding a ground ball and then one-hopping a throw past Prince Fielder to allow Pujols to reach second. Fortunately for the Brewers, Pujols would be stranded at third.
In the sixth, it was Yuniesky Betancourt, clanking a Jon Jay grounder off his glove that would have been the third out. Instead, Pujols followed with a single, and Rafael Furcal scored the Cardinals' fifth run.
And then in the eighth, it was reliever Marco Estrada, throwing a pickoff attempt past Fielder, sending Jay to second. A couple of batters later, Matt Holliday doubled, and St. Louis had its sixth and seventh runs.
What made the display even more confusing was that the Brewers had numerous stellar defensive plays as well. Hairston's diving snag of a Nick Punto liner in the second. Betancourt's Willie Mays-like over-the-shoulder grab to rob Jay in the third. Carlos Gomez's diving catch on Furcal in the fourth to strand Yadier Molina at third. And Fielder's pick in the dirt after a great stab by Betancourt to retire Allen Craig in the sixth.
Even the usually sure-handed Yuniesky Betancourt had a gaffe in Game 5.
In fact, the Betancourt error came three pitches after his gem on Craig. The Hairston error came one pitch after his line-drive grab.
"You want me to be completely honest with you?" Hairston said about going from hero to goat in one pitch. "I really didn't see both balls. Even the one I caught I was a little surprised. I still caught it. Well, it may have caught me a little bit."
Afterward, Milwaukee didn't have many explanations. At least not interesting ones. They weren't pressing. They were focused. Errors aren't contagious. Locker to locker, only one sentiment was consistently expressed: Oh well, get 'em Sunday in Game 6.
"That's baseball," Fielder said.
"It's just one of those things," Hairston added.
"I made an error," Weeks said. "It happens."
Even St. Louis manager Tony La Russa got into the act in the postgame interview room when trying to explain Milwaukee handling the ball like a hot potato.
"That's part of the game," he said. "It's not always just heroics."
But for Weeks, it's his fourth error in the postseason. All other second basemen have combined for two errors.
And for the Brewers as a whole, they now become the third team to have four or more errors in a National League Championship Series game, joining the '74 Dodgers and '01 Braves.
So of course when Greinke slammed the ball into the ground in frustration after Hairston's error in the second, the ball ricocheted off his chest and rolled away.
The good news for the Brewers? Just a 55-minute flight separates them from the nightmare that was Game 5 and the home-field advantage in Game 6. Sure they need back-to-back wins against the Cardinals to reach the World Series. But no team had a better home record in 2011.
When thinking about the challenge that lies ahead, Hairston thought back to his favorite boyhood team, the '91 Twins, which trailed the Braves 3-2 and came back to win two games in Minnesota to win the World Series.
"I hope it happens for us, too," he said.
If they do, the comedy of errors will be quickly forgotten.
"We just didn't make the plays," Hairston said. "Bottom line. There's no rhyme or reason. No excuse. We just have to move on and get ready for Game 6."
Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.