MILWAUKEE — Life as the Milwaukee Brewers once knew it has hit the skids. Legends for a month, the motley heroes from the Midwest are currently hurting, not hitting and, for the first time this year, playing down to preseason expectations.
After Wednesday's 3-0 loss to the Angels at County Stadium, the Brewers found themselves caught in a streak of a different kind. They have lost three straight games, have been shut out in the last two by the Angels and have not scored a run in their last 21 innings. Since its record-setting start of 13-0, Milwaukee has wobbled along at a 7-6 pace.
Magic is out; mediocrity is setting in.
Brewer Manager Tom Trebelhorn can point to injuries as a factor in the recent swoon, and he does have a point. You don't lose Paul Molitor, the league's leading hitter, and Rob Deer, your top power threat, at the same time and not feel the effects.
But Trebelhorn didn't get any sympathy from his colleague in the other dugout, Gene Mauch.
"If we caught them a little short, great," Mauch said. "Detroit caught us a little short last week, too. We had to sit there and take it."
Mauch was referring to the Tigers' two-game sweep at Anaheim. Amends were made in Milwaukee, as Angel pitching rendered Brewer bats about as punchless as near beer.
Only hours after Don Sutton and Donnie Moore had combined to blank Milwaukee Tuesday night, Mike Witt and DeWayne Buice followed suit Wednesday. Witt limited the Brewers to four hits in seven innings, and Buice held them to a single in the final two.
For the Brewers, this was more sobering than it seemed at first glance.
Witt (4-2) was pitching tired, starting on only three days' rest after throwing a complete game Saturday night.
Buice, a 29-year-old rookie, earned his first major league save a week after defeating Milwaukee for his first major league victory. Buice the Brewer-beater has pitched 5 innings against baseball's top winning team, having allowed two hits and no runs.
And the game-winning hit was provided by Angel left fielder Jack Howell, who fulfilled his daily duty by homering off a Milwaukee pitcher. The Angels have played four games against the Brewers, and Howell has hit a home run in each of them. He victimized Mike Birkbeck (1-1) Wednesday.
Howell's solo homer in the second inning provided the only run until the ninth, when he paved the Angels' way to two more. He doubled off Robin Yount's glove in center field, scoring on a bloop single by Dick Schofield, who later scored on a single by Gary Pettis.
Mauch watched it all with a smile. He had gambled by starting Witt, reshuffling his rotation so that his big three--Witt, Sutton and John Candelaria--could start 17 times in a 22-game span. Not only did Witt set the new plan in motion, he helped deliver another shutout.
"Everything's set up just nice now," Mauch said.
Witt would have liked another day's preparation. "I prefer four days' rest, definitely," he said. "Especially after I go and pitch nine innings."
The experiment didn't begin impressively. Witt opened the game by giving up a leadoff triple to Yount. He also walked Greg Brock but escaped damage by striking out Dale Sveum and Glenn Braggs.
"He might have won the game right there," Mauch said. "He was under the gun, right from the get-go, but he got out of it."
Witt gave up a double to Jim Gantner in the second inning, but after that, all Milwaukee could muster off him was a single to center by Juan Castillo and a checked-swing single by Gantner.
Mauch wanted seven innings from Witt, and when he received them, with no runs attached, he decided not to press his luck. On came Buice.
"He'd thrown 128 pitches," Mauch said. "I've seen him go nine (innings) on 128 pitches. That was enough."
"I knew I was tired," Witt said. "I've pitched tired before, but this particular time, I didn't think I could continue and be as effective."
Buice retired the first five Brewers he faced. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, he made things interesting by surrendering a walk to Castillo and a single to Rick Manning but got Yount to end the game on a soft line drive to Schofield at shortstop.
A month ago, Buice was beginning his 11th minor league season with the Edmonton Trappers. Now, he's 1-0 with a save and a 2.13 earned-run average as a bullpen stopper, the right-handed complement to Donnie Moore that Mauch has lacked since Stewart Cliburn's arm went bad.
"When he's sharp and getting all his pitches over, DeWayne Buice can get people out," Mauch said. "There's nothing flukey about it."