Axford responds to fans’ booing
John Axford’s May began much like his April, with one big swing and a bigger dose of frustration.
Starling Marte’s two-run homer off Axford tied the game in the eighth inning and the Pirates kept going, avoiding a three-game sweep by scoring four times in the inning to beat the Brewers, 6-4, at Miller Park on Wednesday.
The loss snapped the Brewers’ nine-game winning streak over the Pirates and saw Axford showered with boos from many in a crowd of 26,079, They did not sound like they cared that the Pirates’ rally began with a broken-bat infield hit, or that Marte found a way to golf a fastball well below the strike zone, or that the go-ahead run scored when Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks kicked a bloop hit further into right field, or that Axford had pitched to a 1.23 ERA and a .192 opponents’ batting average over his eight previous appearances.
They booed the bottom line instead: Six home runs off Axford in 11 1/3 innings, two blown saves, an 0-3 record and a 10.32 ERA.
“Fans are fans,” Axford said. “I know what I can do, I know what I’ve accomplished here, even if they forget about it. I’ve thrown well recently, and put together with the last few years I’ve been here — I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but it’s better than a lot of other relievers around in the league.
“It’s a short-term memory for a lot of fans. Obviously, they forget what I’ve done in the past, and it’s easy for them to do. Right now, I’m just going to keep trying to get the job done.”
Brewers starter Hiram Burgos pitched seven quality innings, Carlos Gomez and Yuniesky Betancourt hit back-to-back home runs in a go-ahead fourth inning and Ryan Braun and Jean Segura added an RBI apiece as Milwaukee built a 4-2 lead and moved within six outs of their 13th series sweep of the Pirates at Miller Park in the past seven seasons.
Axford quickly saw the lead slip away. Pinch-hitter Travis Snider led off the eighth with an infield single before Marte dropped the barrel of his bat at a low fastball on the inner half of the plate and sent it over the wall in left-center field. It was a much better pitch than the one the Rockies’ Dexter Fowler hit precisely one month earlier, spoiling Axford’s season debut on Opening Day.
The Brewers won that game, but were not as fortunate on Wednesday.
Jose Tabata kept the Pirates’ rally going with a single, and after Axford recorded the inning’s first two outs, Brandon Inge hit a blooper to shallow right field. Not only couldn’t Brewers second baseman Weeks catch it, but he couldn’t glove the bounce, either, instead kicking the ball farther into right field for an error that allowed the Pirates go-ahead run to score.
With Axford out of the game and Michael Gonzalez in, Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez added insurance with an RBI single that capped a four-run inning. Alvarez also homered in the game, as the Pirates snapped their eight-game losing streak at Miller Park.
“All four of the pitches that were hits appeared to be out of the zone,” he said. “In all honesty, I went back and looked at the tape, too, and the one to Marte was on the plate but it was below his knees, it was down and it even had a little run on it. … It’s tough. You have to give credit where credit is due, and the Pirates hitters did a good job.”
He referred to it as “my bad luck today.”
Judging by the boos, some fans did not see it that way.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily fair,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “This guy has been pitching well for us, and if you look at what he’s done for the last three years, if you compare him to other people in the league — pretty good. I still obviously like him a lot, and every time I put him out there, I think he’s going to do a good job.”
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