MILWAUKEE – The Cincinnati Reds saw their most reliable reliever squander a three-run lead in the seventh inning Tuesday and that wasn’t even the biggest gut punch.
Tejay Antone, on his first day back from the 10-day Injured List, winced after throwing a curveball on his fifth pitch and immediately called for a trainer. It was a short discussion as Antone handed the ball to manager David Bell and walked straight to the clubhouse.
Bell confirmed Antone felt something in his elbow, which is concerning for any pitcher. Antone missed the 2017 minor-league season because of Tommy John surgery.
It was a painful few innings for the Reds in a 7-4 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field, falling 8.5 games out of first place in front of a crowd of 24,819. The Reds scored four runs against National League Cy Young contender Corbin Burnes and had nothing to show for it.
The San Diego Padres lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers, so the Reds hold a one-game lead in the wild-card race.
"You never want to lose a teammate like that," Michael Lorenzen said. "Seeing Tejay going through what he's going through – this game, yeah, it was important – you never want to see that happen. We're here for Tejay. We're all to support him and help him get through whatever he needs to get through."
Antone was the star of the Reds' bullpen for the first two months of the season and he wanted to be a fresh arm for the playoff race. His velocity was way down on his curveballs and the one fastball he threw Tuesday.
The loss of Antone coupled with a blown lead led to somber postgame interviews over Zoom.
"(Antone) was upset," Bell said. "He worked so hard to get back. He has a long career ahead of him and everything. He loves pitching and loves competing so much. He wants to be here with this team, helping us win and pitching. He was very disappointed. It’s hard."
Catcher Tucker Barnhart added: "I hope it’s less serious than it looked, but we’re all thinking about it and we’re all hoping for good news."
Lorenzen recorded the final out of the sixth inning to protect a three-run lead. Then things spiraled when he returned to the mound in the seventh. Lorenzen gave up three consecutive hits, including an RBI single to Kolten Wong, and issued a walk to his last batter.
Mychal Givens tried to rescue the Reds, entering with the bases loaded and no outs. He allowed back-to-back sacrifice flies before Brewers catcher Omar Narváez lined a go-ahead double down the right-field line.
"Michael has been pitching great," Bell said. "Since he’s come back, he’s been amazing, really. He’s done a great job for us. You have to give the Brewers credit for getting something going off of him."
Barnhart thought a lengthy top of the seventh inning may have played a factor in Lorenzen's outing. Brewers reliever Hunter Strickland needed 27 pitches to navigate the frame, which included a 10-pitch at-bat with Aristides Aquino.
"I had to warm up pretty fast, so I didn't get fully loose," said Lorenzen, who had a 13-inning scoreless streak to begin the season. "But that's life in the bullpen. Then to have to sit down after you pitch for that long. I think my velo was down a couple of miles per hour. I just think the hand speed wasn't as crisp, probably coming from getting hot really fast and then having to sit down for a while."
Lorenzen and Givens have primarily pitched in the eighth and ninth innings for the past few weeks, but their early entrance underscored the importance of the series for the Reds as they try to hold onto the second wild-card spot.
"They were prepared to do it," Bell said. "Really was trying to stay in front in the most important spot in the game.”
The Reds had their first five batters reach base against Burnes in the fourth inning, snapping his 18-inning scoreless streak. They loaded the bases through two walks and a broken-bat single from Nick Castellanos. That brought up Mike Moustakas, a former Brewer who ended a 0-for-26 streak at the plate on Sunday.
Moustakas hit an RBI single through the right side of the infield to end a six-pitch at-bat, rewarded for laying off a curveball and a low cutter.
Kyle Farmer continued the rally with a go-ahead, RBI single through the left side of the infield. Barnhart followed with a sacrifice fly to center to score Joey Votto for a 3-1 lead.
Burnes allowed seven hits and four runs in six innings, matching his season-high in runs allowed in a home start this year.
"He's obviously one of the best pitchers in our league," said Barnhart, who added an RBI single in the sixth inning. "He threw me in my first at-bat one of the nastiest pitches I've ever seen. I was giving him hell. I told him, 99 mph inside would've been OK, but did you really have to hit 100? He said, 'it's the first time I've hit 100 in my life.' I said, 'oh, to little old me.'"
Tyler Mahle recovered well after a shaky 31-pitch first inning, permitting five hits and one run in 5 2/3 innings. Three of those hits came in the first inning, surrendering a run on a sacrifice fly.
After stranding two runners in the first inning, Mahle was near unhittable with an overpowering fastball. He retired 14 of his next 15 hitters after a leadoff single in the second inning. He totaled eight strikeouts, seven of which came from his fastball.
"All you can ask for is a guy that is able to give us a chance to win," Barnhart said. "Holding it down after giving up an early run just speaks to the type of guy he is and the pitcher that he is. Proud of him."
Mahle, who owns a 1.84 ERA in 14 road starts, has been the victim of a blown save in nine starts this season, which is the most in the Majors.