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NLCS Gm5: The Brewers commit four errors

ST. LOUIS -- The Brewers exposed their Achilles' heel Friday in a 7-1 loss to the Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, a four-error dud that represented the worst defensive performance in an LCS game in a decade.

"That was an ugly game all the way around," left fielder Ryan Braun said in a quiet visitors' clubhouse. "You just hope it's out of our system and we can put it behind us."

The question is whether it's too late. The Brewers trail the best-of-seven series, 3-2, and when they take the field next, their backs will be against the wall.

At least it's a familiar wall.

The NLCS now shifts from Busch Stadium back to Milwaukee's Miller Park, where the Brewers won a Major League-best 57 games during the regular season and four more in the postseason, including a win-or-go-home Game 5 of the NL Division Series against the D-backs. Milwaukee must win Sunday and again Monday to advance to the World Series for the first time since 1982.

"It's similar, except that time we only had to win one game," Braun said. "This time, we have to win two games. Obviously, it's more challenging to win two, but at least we've been there before, and we came out and played a great [NLDS] Game 5. Hopefully, we can do the same thing in Game 6 at home."

Game 6 of the NLCS is Sunday at Miller Park, and manager Ron Roenicke said he was sticking with Shaun Marcum as his starter. Marcum will have to bounce back from a pair of postseason starts in which he has surrendered 14 hits and 12 runs in 8 2/3 innings.

"They are pretty good over there in their house," said Cards reliever Octavio Dotel, whose fifth-inning strikeout of Braun may have been the night's key out. "Now that we have the lead ... we have two chances, pretty much."

Game 5 was lost not by Brewers starter Zack Greinke, but by the defenders behind him, who combined for four errors and two near-catches -- six non-outs -- that contributed to the first five Cardinals runs and indirectly affected all seven. The four errors were the most by a team in an LCS game since the Braves committed four in Game 4 of the 2001 NLCS, and most maddening was that two of Milwaukee's errors came almost immediately after the same player earned his way onto the highlight reel.

In the second inning, St. Louis already had a 1-0 lead when right fielder Corey Hart couldn't catch up to Yadier Molina's RBI double, a deep but potentially playable ball for which Hart crashed into the right-field fence.

"I thought he had a chance at it," Roenicke told the television audience on TBS. "Molina's again giving us some tough at-bats. He squared it up good. I thought Corey had a chance, but he just didn't quite get it."

Then it became the Jerry Hairston show, for good and bad. The third baseman dove to catch a line drive from No. 8 hitter Nick Punto to save at least one run and maybe two. But the next hitter was Cardinals pitcher Jaime Garcia, whose grounder scooted through Hairston's legs for a two-run error and a 3-0 lead. The second run scored on obstruction by Hairston, who impeded Molina's path around third base.

In the fourth, Molina's popup to shallow center field glanced off second baseman Rickie Weeks' glove, putting runners at first and second. Punto sacrificed the runners, and instead of dropping a squeeze bunt, Garcia swung away and hit a run-scoring groundout.

It was 4-1 in the sixth inning when shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt took his turn in the spotlight. He'd already made one terrific play, an over-the-shoulder catch in the third inning to take a hit away from Cards center fielder Jon Jay, and Betancourt made another contribution in the sixth when he ranged to his right for an Allen Craig grounder and retired the pinch-hitter with a bullet throw to first base. Two batters later, Jay hit Betancourt a much easier grounder, and Betancourt booted it, putting runners at first and third with two outs before Albert Pujols' RBI single.

In the eighth, Marco Estrada's errant pickoff throw went for a fourth error, and the Cardinals added two more runs.

"It's definitely not focus," Roenicke said. "When you play in a game like this, you're going to be focused. Jerry Hairston makes a great diving play on the one before and then he lets one get through his legs, certainly not typical for him. And then Rickie had some plays that I'm sure he's disappointed he didn't make, but that hurt. You give these guys extra outs, and they are going to hurt you."

Did the Brewers give the game away?

"I don't know if we gave it to them; they swung the bats, too," Hairston said. "Garcia pitched well for them, and their bullpen pitched well, too. We would have liked to have played better defensively, but it didn't happen. There were a couple tough plays, but they definitely weren't routine. [The Cardinals] won the game tonight. Don't take anything away from them."

Only two of the Cards' five runs against Greinke were earned. He was charged with seven hits in 5 2/3 innings, walked two batters, hit one and struck out none for only the second time this season. The other no-strikeout game was a nightmare start at Yankee Stadium in which Greinke was tagged for seven runs in two innings.

Greinke pitched deeper into the game than the Cardinals' Garcia, a left-hander with a history of sudden midgame blowups that prompted his manager to tap the bullpen with Garcia one out shy of qualifying for the win while holding a 4-1 lead. The Brewers had runners at first and second when Tony La Russa turned to Dotel to handle Braun, who represented the tying run.

An apparent ball on a 1-0 pitch went against Braun, and he eventually struck out, falling to 2-for-10 with eight strikeouts in his career at-bats -- regular season and postseason -- against Dotel.

"It doesn't bother me to face him," Braun said. "I'm not uncomfortable against him, though I know he has good numbers against me. He's made some pitches. When you recognize an umpire is calling that [low and away] pitch, you should take advantage of it and hit that spot. The best pitch I had to hit was the one I swung and missed [for strike three], a slider that backed up. It was a good pitch to hit."

Braun had better luck in the first inning, when his double off Garcia gave Braun 22 career hits in the postseason to tie Robin Yount and Paul Molitor for the franchise lead. Braun has reached safely in the first inning in all 10 of the Brewers' postseason games, two more than the previous Major League record.

"I have a lot of confidence in our guys," Roenicke said. "They are confident at home. We can win two ballgames at home. We are going to have to play a lot better baseball than what we have played here." Comments