Command off, Wolf hit early, often in defeat
Veteran lefty unable to throw curve for strikes, allows seven runs
PHOENIX -- Randy Wolf was doing all he could to find a rhythm on the Chase Field mound and Brewers manager Ron Roenicke remained patient, giving the veteran left-hander time to regain his footing against an aggressive D-backs offense.
Unfortunately for the Brewers, Wolf was unable to recover from a first-inning onslaught and Game 4 of this National League Division Series swiftly spiraled away in the form of a 10-6 loss. Now it is back to Milwaukee, where the clubs will play a decisive fifth game at Miller Park on Friday.
"My command was horrible," Wolf said.
The veteran was not about to sugarcoat it or offer excuses.
"They just came out swinging," he said.
And swinging. And swinging. And swinging.
By the time the smoke cleared in the opening frame, Arizona had stormed to a 5-1 lead behind four hits, including a pair of home runs. The first was a rocket down the left-field line off the bat of Ryan Roberts, giving the D-backs a grand slam for the second straight game. Only the 1977 Dodgers accomplished such a feat previously in the postseason.
With Chase Field still shaking in the wake of Roberts' blast, Chris Young followed by ripping a pitch from Wolf into the seats in right-center field. Wolf's command woes persisted in the second, when he walked pitcher Joe Saunders on five pitches, and the third, when the lefty yielded a two-run single to pinch-hitter Collin Cowgill.
There were a handful of junctures where Roenicke could have lifted Wolf, especially with a rested bullpen and an off-day looming on Thursday. Instead, Milwaukee's manager held out hope and stuck with Wolf for three innings.
Wolf wound up with a loss after giving up seven runs on eight hits. He walked three.
"We were certainly hoping that he would [settle down]," Roenicke said. "There's been a lot of outings, the first inning he scuffled and turned around and really got us into sixth, seventh inning. That's what we were hoping he would do."
The numbers support Roenicke's explanation.
In the 33 first innings Wolf logged in the regular season, the 34-year-old southpaw combined to allow 22 runs on 41 hits for a 6.00 ERA. Opposing hitters boasted a .311 average in the first inning off Wolf, who went 13-10 with a 3.69 ERA on the season.
On this particular night, however, Wolf simply did not have his command.
"That put me in a corner," Wolf said. "I think [almost] every hitter I got behind in the count. If you do that, it's hard to be successful."
Wolf fell behind in the count against 15 of the 19 batters he faced. Part of the problem was an inability to throw his curveball for a strike. Wolf often went to the breaking ball early in the count and his command issues had him consistently falling behind. That allowed the D-backs to lock in on his fastball.
Curveballs accounted for 28 percent of Wolf's 81 pitches after he threw the same offering only 19.1 percent of the time during the season. The lefty threw only 31 fastballs, mainly due to the fact that he kept trying to gain a feel for the curve.
"I was searching for it," Wolf said. "It's a big pitch for me to throw that for strikes. When I throw it for strikes, my fastball is more effective and it's easier for me to go in and out. I didn't want to abandon that pitch."
"I think he thought that the offspeed was what he needed to do," Roenicke said. "I think curveballs were all down in the zone early. He couldn't throw them for strikes."
Making things more frustrating was the fact that all seven of the runs Wolf relinquished in his three innings came with two outs. In the first, Wolf struck out Paul Goldschmidt -- Tuesday's grand slam hero for the D-backs -- before giving up the back-to-back blasts to Roberts and Young with two outs.
"It put us in a hole right away," Wolf said. "The hard thing about it is all those runs that I have up came with two outs. It [stinks] when you know you're one pitch away from getting out of an inning. At the same time, it's not like I was cruising at any point."