The Brewers scored a pair of two-out runs in the top of the ninth inning on Thursday for a temporary tie, but the Dodgers answered.
Boy, did they answer.
Andre Ethier crushed a down-the-middle fastball from Milwaukee reliever LaTroy Hawkins for a game-winning grand slam, sending the Brewers to a 7-3 loss and re-igniting a crowd of 38,456 fans at Dodger Stadium that had been silenced a half-inning earlier.
Gregg Zaun had two RBIs and Prince Fielder scored two runs for the Brewers, who needed one more clutch hit for their first-ever sweep of the Dodgers in 13 seasons together in the National League. You’ll have to pardon the veteran Hawkins if he had other things on his mind.
“I’m puzzled,” Hawkins said.
He repeated those two words twice more for emphasis. It’s an unfamiliar feeling for a veteran who breezed through last season with the Houston Astros with such precision that the Brewers committed to a two-year free agent contract.
Hawkins said his command has eluded him in all but his first two outings this season, and how his velocity is gone, too. That was a bad combination against Ethier, who has more game-winning hits since 2008 (11) than anyone else in baseball, and now has homered in both of his at-bats this season with the bases loaded.
After the Brewers tied the game at 3 against Jonathan Broxton, the Dodgers wasted no time in rallying against Hawkins, who surrendered singles to Jamey Carroll and Xavier Paul, then uncorked a wild pitch during a battle with dangerous outfielder Matt Kemp that allowed Carroll to advance to third base.
Hawkins walked Kemp to load the bases for Ethier and again fell behind with Balls 1 and 2. Ethier gave the Brewers a break when he swung through a high fastball that would have been Ball 3, then fouled off another fastball to even the count.
Zaun, the catcher, wasn’t about to change course.
“We’re in a 2-and-2 count, bases loaded, nowhere to put him, and I’ve got to go with the guy’s best pitch,” Zaun said. “If I miss with second- or third-best, or second- or third-best gets hit, and we lose, then I’m kicking myself.”
Trouble is, Hawkins’ best pitch has not been very good of late. He was pumping 96 mph fastballs with ease during his four scoreless outings to begin his Brewers career, but on Thursday he didn’t top 91 mph.
Hawkins missed part of Spring Training with a shoulder injury but said his arm is fine. Which leaves him, “puzzled.”
“You can make mistakes if you throw hard enough. You can’t make mistakes at 88-90 [mph],” Hawkins said. “If I knew what it was, I’d tell you and I’d fix it. … It definitely doesn’t put your mind at ease, that’s for sure.”