MILWAUKEE Heading into the season's most grueling road trip a 10-game stretch in three cities against three playoff contenders still several games out of the second wild card, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke had an ideal finish in mind, a number that he thought would keep Milwaukee in the race.
Roenicke kept that number to himself as he and the Brewers headed to Pittsburgh, where they swept the struggling Pirates. For so long, he had focused his philosophy on winning one game at a time. But he knew the mountain the Brewers faced and what they'd need to do to climb it. He continued to keep the number to himself.
Then, on Friday, as the Brewers returned to Milwaukee a sight for sore eyes for Roenicke and his players they carried with them a 6-4 finish, a number that would normally mark a very successful trip against the kind of competition that Milwaukee faced.
But Roenicke's number had been just a little better than that. They needed better than 6-4, he had reasoned ten days before. They needed 7-3.
And if John Axford's ninth inning would've gone as planned on Thursday in Cincinnati, that would have been the case. But rarely have things gone as planned this season for the Brewers, and with a Todd Frazier home run in Thursday's ninth inning just one out away from a seventh win on the trip that trend would continue.
It was as deflating of a loss to a contending team as one could imagine so late in the season. And as a result, down four games with just six remaining, the chances of Milwaukee making the playoffs are slim to none, barring an epic collapse by St. Louis. But in the Brewers' clubhouse before Friday's game, you wouldn't know the team's bubble had nearly burst the day before.
There is still hope, sure no matter how minute and any player in the Brewers clubhouse will tell you such. But it's evident that the vibe around the team is something more than that at this point. Milwaukee couldn't be more pleased with how the last month has gone, and although it may not end in a playoff berth, it could make the difference next season.
"A lot of people had us completely out of it so long ago," pitcher Marco Estrada said. "We weren't even being looked at, and that's why we just decided we were going to go out and have fun and just keep trying to do what we've been doing. And we've been playing better. Maybe it's because we've just been so relaxed. We can't control what happens with other teams. We just have to keep doing what we've been doing.
"It's just so relaxed here. Look around. Everyone's just chatting, relaxing, having a good time. If we get into the playoffs, we're going to be a very dangerous team."
Roenicke knows how slight those chances are, and his body language says that he's more realistic about the Brewers' hopes at this point. He, like any of the players, is thrilled with how the successful September has been.
He stops short of calling the last month a moral victory. But there's no doubting that September meant a lot to him and the rest of the Brewers' organization.
"I don't know if there's a moral victory because you play to get into the playoffs," Roenicke said. "But from where we were a month and a half ago, we're all excited about where we were on the last road trip. We knew how tough the road trip was going to be. We knew what we needed to do, and we got ourselves close enough to where guys were fired up."
The final verdict on the Brewers' 2012 season could be, when all is said and done, that they just ran out of time to utilize the momentum of the last month. Roenicke laughs when asked if another 10 games added to the 162-game schedule would make a difference.
It's a notion that Estrada would advocate in a heartbeat today, if he could.
"If we just had a little more time," Estrada opined. "It's funny because there are times when you're like, Man, why is this season so long?' But then, times like this, you kind of wish you had an extra 10 games because, in that case, I feel like we'd definitely be in it. But time's not really on our side right now."
And without time on their side, a grueling 10-game road trip may have proven to be kryptonite to a team trying to make a heroic burst back into the playoff picture. But Estrada wouldn't change anything. He and Roenicke both fervently expressed how pleased they are with how the team has been playing.
But with the number in Roenicke's head now just the memory of a missed opportunity, the Brewers will hang onto the hope in their next six games that somehow, some way their 6-4 road trip will have been enough to keep playing baseball in October.
Peralta should be fine: After leaving Thursday's start and getting an MRI done on his right arm, Brewers pitcher Wily Peralta received a clean bill of health on Friday from Roenicke.
"I was really happy he wasn't real sore today which is real encouraging," Roenicke said. "We want to make sure if we put him out there that he's not that sore.Peralta is scheduled to make his last start of the season on Tuesday, and if the Brewers are still in the race, Peralta is expected to start. If not, Roenicke said the Brewers wouldn't put him on the mound unless he's 100 percent.
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